Half the fun of music is finding something new, so why not use the summer to discover new classical favorites while you hit the road, the mountains, the beach, or wherever!

Show Notes

Isata Kanneh-Mason - Summertime

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The Philadelphia Orchestra - Florence Price: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3

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Ensemble Ouranos - Ligeti, Nielsen & Dvorak: Woodwind Quintets

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Ana de la Vega - My Paris

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Transcript

00:00:01
John Banther: I'm John Banther. Welcome to Classical Breakdown. It is the last episode of season three before we take a summer break. I want to take a moment to thank everyone for listening and sharing this podcast. If you've enjoyed listening and learning all about classical music, leave a review in your podcast app. That helps in getting the podcast in front of other listeners like you. I also want to thank my WETA Classical co- host this season, Linda Carducci, Bill Bukowski, Nicole Lacroix, James Jacobs, Matthew Dayton, and Evan Keely. Everyone brought their expertise, their enthusiasm and love for classical music out in every episode. In our final episode of the season, we keep the tradition of giving you some recommended recordings to listen to this summer in which to expand your musical palette, and of course, just to enjoy, you can go to the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org after listening to this episode, and there you can find where you can listen to or purchase these albums.
Let's start with pianist Isata Kanneh- Mason. Her album released last year on the Decca label called, appropriately here, Summertime. Here is what she said when it was released last year, " I am delighted to be presenting my second solo album, Summertime, which features a rich array of pieces from many of my favorite American classical composers. The barber piano Sonata forms the anchor around which the rest of the album was developed. I fell in love with the piece the first time I heard it, and it's a real pleasure to have recorded it for Decca. I wanted this album to illustrate the diversity of music in America at that time, and so it was important to me to include the more familiar Gershwin songs, as well as the Samuel Coleridge Taylor spirituals, to which I feel a personal connection."
More on Gershwin and Coleridge Taylor in a minute. But let's first talk about that piano Sonata by American composer, Samuel Barber, that she mentioned. You're probably much more familiar with his adagio for strings, but I think you'll enjoy this sonata for the piano as well, which you can hear does sound quite different. Barber wrote this in 1949 for the 25th anniversary of a league of American composers. It's very difficult. It is very virtuosic, very technically and musically demanding, and it was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz, a request, or as some describe it, a demand from Samuel Barber. Isata plays this with precision, not just rhythmically, but also in her dynamics, which are also fast changing as well. There are so many intricate lines that come in and out of the music, lines and motifs that could easily be lost or covered up by just a little too much volume or energy in one hand or the other, but throughout her playing, nothing is lost, especially in the final movement fugue.
Similar to reading a poem not just once, I also recommend when listening to something contemporary like this that you give it a few listens. You'll hear things that you didn't hear before and your appreciation for or even against it may change over time as well. The album is built around this sonata and includes composers George Gershwin, Amy Beach, Aaron Copeland, Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and Earl Wild. His grand fantasy arrangement of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. From that fantasy arrangement, Isata plays Summertime, and it is a perfect way to start the album.
Its sounds like we are transported into a distant and dreamy world. It's a very different way to hear this familiar tune. I've listened to it many times now, and each time I'm hearing something different or enjoying it in a whole new way. After that is another Gershwin arrangement of Earl Wild's. It's, I Got Rhythm, from his seventh virtuosic etudes. As you can hear, it is virtuosic to say the least. All the qualities I mentioned in the Barber are on full display. She also includes the three preludes by George Gershwin, By the Still Waters by Amy Beach, and a really fun and short work of Aaron Copeland's that he wrote when he was just, I think, 20 years old, a student. It's called The Cat and Mouse, and it sounds exactly like you'd imagine. She ends the album with music by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, his impromptu Number Two in B minor, and this is actually the world premier recording of this piece, after which she placed three of his spiritual transcriptions.
Next we go to the 2022 Grammy winner for the best orchestral performance. It's the Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Yannick Nézet- Séguin for the symphonies numbers one and three by Florence Price. This came out in 2021 on the Deutche Grammophon label. There have only been a few recordings of Price's symphonies so each release can have quite an impact in how we experience the music since we have so few examples. Think of the seemingly unlimited supply of recordings of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, for example. All the conductors, the different orchestras, arrangements and so on. We still have that to come for Florence Price.
This album won the Grammy for a good reason. It is a completely new and fresh take on her symphonies. Right from the start in the Symphony Number One, the Philadelphia Orchestra brings out the intensity and towering nature of her music. The transitions are beautiful and cohesive and within the music, in little spots here and there, you get subtle changes in character and sound and in tempo. All of this naturally ebbs and flows. At times, it's the full orchestra. Sometimes it's a brass choir, like in the second movement, and in some moments it's like chamber music. Everyone in the orchestra has a lot to keep track of and do while playing her symphonies, and the Philadelphia Orchestra with Nézet- Séguin conducting navigates all of these moments more cohesively than I've heard before. One of my favorite parts, no surprise if you heard episode number 59 on this symphony, is the moment in the finale where it sounds like there's this Bach at the organ moment, and the Philadelphia Orchestra absolutely sends it.
The other work on this album is her third symphony, finished seven to eight years after her first, and it's a bit more mature and developed in my opinion. Like I said, everyone has a lot to keep track of playing her music. So much is happening. It's great that she gives nods and moments to almost every instrument on stage, and I imagine you will love this moment, this beautiful line in the trombone in the first movement as much as I do. I especially love how they pull off this moment in the finale. This is a fantastic album that I think you will love if you don't already. Also because so much is going on in her music, repeated listening just makes it better. Give this a listen at least once right now and come back to it again at the end of the summer, if you've not listened to it several times in between. Either way, later on, you'll hear things that you did not hear before.
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Next, let's go to an album that actually came out in 2018. It's the first album of the French woodwind quintet, Ensemble Ouranos. I wanted to include something here featuring a woodwind quintet because I think it's something not many people are familiar with and maybe we can correct that a little bit. String quartets are made up of string instruments. While the violin is different from the cello, they both have strings and they both use a bow to make the sound. Bras quintets have very different instruments; trumpet, horn, trombone, and tuba.
Again, those are very different, but they all make this sound the same way, buzzing your lips into a mouthpiece at one end of an instrument that's made of brass. Woodwind quintets, or often just called win quintets, they're made up of very, very different instruments. We have oboe, flute, clarinet, bassoon, and horn. Now, those instruments differ completely in how they make sounds. We have double reads of oboe and bassoon, the single read of the clarinet, the horn, which is actually a brass instrument and conical in its shape. There's also the flute, where you're blowing over a tone hole. They're making sounds in totally different ways.
Ensemble Ouranos's debut recording has some music to stretch your ears and great examples of the genre, but I especially want to point you to a work if you want to test out the waters. It's a string quartet actually. One you've likely heard on the radio a few times; Dvorák's String Quartet Number 12 in F major, also known as his American Quartet. The arrangement they are playing for wind quintet is just downright enchanting. It's a familiar and popular favorite for many who love Dvorák, and listening to it played by a wind quintet, for me, it makes me feel like I'm listening to this piece for the first time all over again. What also makes this so impressive in this recording is how much this arrangement sounds like Dvorák. A lot of choices have to be made in adapting this from a string quartet and making these wind parts sound like they were done by Dvorák himself.
You're going to love the Dvorák here, but let's go back to the beginning of the album where we have six bagatelles for wind quintet by 20th century composer, George Ligeti, written in the early 1950s. In his third bagatelle in allegro grazioso, you can hear just how versatile a wind quintet can be. Listen for how the rest of the group accompanies the (inaudible) in this movement. These are more contemporary, and like with previous mentions, it's best with repeated listens. This wind quintet is quite extraordinary too. Each of these musicians are accomplished soloists in their own right. Coming together, they play some of these big dissonant moments more convincing than I've heard before.
Splitting the older Dvorák talk in the newer Ligeti is Danish composer, Carl Nielsen, and his wind quintet composed in 1922. This is actually one of his well- known works. In his own program notes on the work, Carl Nielsen wrote, the quintet for winds is one of the composer's latest works in which he has attempted to render the characters of the various instruments. At one moment, they are all talking at once. At another, they are quite alone. Ensemble Ouranos brings out all of this and more. I especially love the second movement minuet. It features a simple and endearing line in the clarinet that just returns again and again. The third movement features a set of theme and variations on a corral written by Carl Nielsen, and it starts with this big symphonic sound. Now, those with keen ears who listened to our episode on the oboe might hear something different in this movement. The oboe is missing. Having been replaced with its bigger relative, the English horn, or as we also call it (foreign language) . Listen to the English horn's deep and somber sound quality.
Nielsen may have gotten this idea to swap oboe for English horn after conducting a performance of the Symphony Fantastic by Berlioz, which of course has a big English horn feature. So many great moments in this album featuring Ensemble Ouranos. This is a great example of the different colors and sounds possible in a wind quintet, and that's what separates this from other ensembles like string quartets or brass quintets. This came out in 2018 and I wanted to include it here because of the familiar Dvorák, but the best part is they also released an album last year that you should check out if you enjoy the wind quintet here. I'll just tell you one of the things on their new album is an arrangement for a wind quintet of Richard Straus's, (foreign language) .
The last album to recommend for this summer is one featuring Australian flutist, Ana de la Vega. It's called, My Paris, and features with her pianist, Paul Rivinius. It came out this year, 2022, on the Pentatone label. Almost all of the music is by French composers and we have the usual suspects; Claude Debussy, Gabriel Fauré, (inaudible) , Lili Boulanger, and several more. Ana de la Vega did a great writeup on the idea of this album for her.
I'll put a link to it on the show notes page classicalbreakdown. org, but to quote a little bit of it, she says, " With no lodgings, no teacher, no friends and no plan, I flew from Sydney to Paris on a one way ticket. I had little idea what I was doing other than that the indescribable beautiful tone of Jean- Pierre Rampal was something I needed to get close to. I longed to walk the streets of the city where the famed French School of Flute Playing held its throne. One cannot learn such magic from books sitting on a beach in the south Pacific. It's in the drinking water, but I had incorrectly calculated the exchange rate. The Australian dollar was not as I had thought; three times the Euro. It was in fact three times less. I blew all of my money in four days and was kicked out of the hotel, but this misfortune turned into one of the greatest gifts. I was introduced to a wonderful 90 year old French woman. I moved into her apartment and there began one of the most important relationships of my life."
Ana continues with how this woman supported her and pushed her forward for six years as she studied at the Paris conservatory. Ana said that she was (inaudible) into a bygone period, and if you hear old school magic in this album, it is largely due to the looking glass she led me through. Anna's playing here is fantastic, and some of the music here is likely new to most listeners, but she includes many familiar favorites as well, like an arrangement of Debussy's Clair de Lune, Massenet's Meditation from Thais, and a virtuosic showing of Cécile Chaminade's Concertino with a piano reduction. There's several more too. Listening to this piano and flute version instead of the flute and orchestra version of Chaminade's Concertino, it just gives it a new perspective, similar to listening to that Dvorák string quartet we heard in the wind quintet album. Some of the unfamiliar works may be the flute sonata by Francis Poulenc and a beautiful knock turn by Lily (inaudible) .
De la Vega packs a ton of music in this album, really too much to go over, but there is a non- French composer among them too; Mozart. While Mozart wasn't known for being too fond of the flute, he wrote some great music for the instrument and he lived in Paris himself for one year before returning to Saltsburg, and from Mozart's letters, we know things weren't always going quite his way in Paris, but while he was there, he wrote his violin Sonata Number 12, and this was at the time his mother died. It's only two movements and it's quite somber, and it's key of E minor, a rare key for Mozart's instrumental music. In Ana de la Vega's playing, it's as if Mozart wrote it for flute to begin with. The album concludes with a work everyone will love. It is a suite of music from George Bizet's opera, Carmen, done by Daniel (inaudible) . It's the perfect virtuosic sendoff and just a great way to end an album full of familiar favorites, surprises, and, well, something for everyone.
Well, that's it. Four recordings that I think really deserve your attention this summer. Go to the show notes page at classicalbreakdown. org to find where you can listen and purchase these albums. After listening to them, let me know what you think. Send me an email at classicalbreakdown@weta. org. I hope you enjoyed your summer break and can catch up on any of the episodes you missed this past year. Don't forget to leave a review in your podcast app, subscribe, and I'll see you for season four, which starts in September. I'm John Bather. Thanks for listening to Classical Breakdown from WETA Classical.