Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/12/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #809:

Cesar Franck – Organ Works – Pierre Cochereau

Belgian composer Cesar Franck is not popular with music snobs, probably because he’s one of the alltime great tunesmiths. Considering how vivid and memorable his compositions are, it’s surprising that he’s not better known. He wrote string quartets, piano music and symphonies, but he supported himself as a Paris church organist and his works for organ are arguably his finest. He was reputedly a gentle soul: his students loved him. Recorded at Notre Dame with an unselfconscious intensity in 1958 by legendary organist and improviser Pierre Cochereau, this six-album set, long out of print, absolutely nails the plaintiveness and drama in Franck’s works. These days, the buzzword that describes Franck best is “transparent,” that is, he didn’t dissemble. He wore his heart on his sleeve and in the process created a body of work that resonates with an intensity that ranges from poignant to triumphant. This one has all the classics: the Grand Piece Symphonique, which may or may not have been the first organ symphony (it probably wasn’t: Franz Liszt arguably beat him to it); the uneasily victorious Piece Heroique, and the Chorales (versions of #1, #2 and #3 by various organists, including the extraordinary Charles Tournemire on #3, have made it to youtube). If there’s any composer from the Romantic era who deserves a revival, it’s Franck. Another estimable Notre Dame organist, Olivier Latry recorded a six-cd box set in 2002; Marcel Dupre’s rumbling, reverb-drenched 1948 mono recordings of the chorales are also worth getting if you can track them down. Here’s a random torrent.

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November 12, 2010 Posted by | classical music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Edward Landin at the Organ at St. Thomas Church, NYC 12/6/09

Westminster Choir College keeps churning out good organists and they’re getting the chance to let the world know – see Justin David Miller’s concert last year at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue last year. This time around it was WCC’s Edward Landin, who’s also assistant organist at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, NJ who left the audience here spellbound, and as effortless as his playing seemed, it was just as soulful. He opened with Bach’s big, exuberant Piece d’Orgue (BWV 572), its portentous call-and-response building methodically to a volcanically arpeggiated crescendo which Landin handled with a graceful intensity. After that he took a breather with the lengthy hymn Allein Gott in der Hoh sei Ehr (BWV 662), evoking a sparse crowd exiting Bach’s Marienkirche on a cold winter day but not much more than that– as hubristic as it may be to criticize the mighty Johann Sebastian, it goes on too long. Landin followed it with the considerably more inviting, upbeat Komm, Gott, Schopfer, Heilger Geist (BWV 667).

Then he took everything to the next level with a trio of familiar Cesar Franck compositions. He worked the Piece Heroique with a thoughtful, deliberate pace and dynamics, obviously aware that this concert standard is about struggle far more than it is about victory. And when the gorgeous, memorable main theme finally gave way to something of a triumph, Landin’s fiery rivulets were delivered warily with clenched teeth. In other words, he got it.

He followed that with the warmly atmospheric Cantabile, emphasizing the melody’s subtle bitersweetness – that some rock band hasn’t turned it into a pop hit is surprising – and closed with the Final, Op. 21. Finally, at the end, after its brief, quietly macabre pedal solo and the first of its blaring trumpet passages (making splendid use of the trumpet stops in the ceiling here) Landin made the long, crescendoing overture a real showstopper, riding out the big, inexorable ending for all it was worth. Landin is a fan of Jeanne Demessieux, the French organ teacher and composer who’s definitely due for a revival – it’s not as if she’s ever gone away, in organ circles, but she deserves to be better-known than she is outside outside that demimonde. From this concert, this guy looks ideally suited to be the one to usher it in.

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ghost of Cesar Franck: Soo Bae and Reiko Uchida in Concert at Pace University, NYC 6/22/09

Monday evening seemed to have been curated by the ghost of Cesar Franck, one of the most underrated composers ever, both during his life and afterward. Throughout the Belgian-born Romantic tunesmith’s impressively diverse repertoire of symphonic, chamber, organ and piano compositions, there are echoes of the best of Bach, Handel and Beethoven’s deeper and more mature works, along with hour after hour of pioneering ideas that foreshadow both Rachmaninoff and rock music. In a brilliant stroke of programming, cellist Soo Bae and her frequent collaborator, pianist Reiko Uchida chose Franck’s Sonata in A Major as the centerpiece of their concert downtown at the Pace University auditorium. The theme of the bill was love, which in most cases portends a lot of schlock. But this performance vividly and completely unselfconscious gave life to the more intense portion of the emotional spectrum. The two Bach pieces that bookended the program were warm and familiar, the first an old gradeschool favorite of the Long Island-bred cellist and the encore a deceptively complex, perfectly paced, contented reflection.

The highlight of the show, in its elaborate, practically 40-minute magnificence called for a vastly more expansive array of emotions: longing, anguish, reverence, joy, passion, breathless anticipation and a lot more, not necessarily in that order. Bae told the crowd that Franck had written it for fellow composer Eugene Ysaye’s wedding – it’s hard to think of a more dramatic or painstakingly crafted gift. The first of its four movements began poignant with call-and-response between the two instruments, growing to a crescendo that was equal parts anguish and passion – Franck obviously knew all too well that love is a dangerous occupation, and to the musicians’ credit, rather than going completely over the top, they both held back, Bae’s knotted brow testament to how intensely she’d been taken in by the composition – yet, both musicians’ interpretation was gently, knowingly nuanced. The second movement began almost as a boogie (this was written a century before the rock era), shifting to one of Franck’s signature anthemic passages, a nocturne, an almost baroque section and an intense, percussive coda. After that, one of Ysaye’s pieces, the Child’s Dream (arranged by Bae herself) couldn’t have been anything but anticlimactic, although the duo did a good job shifting it from an almost cloying, stererotypically Romantic introduction through an increasingly apprehensive series of permutations, like watching a child mature, knowing how much more trouble they’re going to cause everyone as they get older.

Bae then did a fascinating solo interpretation of a spiritual that she’d discovered on youtube, Still, its melody as 18th century Northern European as second-generation African, and she buttressed it with lithe arpeggios that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Scarlatti piece. The program closed with a lighthearted pops tune that would work in a future soundtrack to the Godfather, Part 4: Buenos Aires if that’s ever made. After all this, Cesar Franck wherever he is would still have been smiling.

June 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Orchestral Works of Carl Nielsen – The New York Scandia Symphony, Dorrit Mattson, Conductor

Discovery is invariably fun, whether getting a scoop or stumbling onto something that slipped under the radar the first time out. This definitely falls into the latter camp, having appeared on the market a couple of years ago, but it screams out to become part of the canon, a masterfully recorded, emotionally rich collection of the Nielsen orchestral pieces that you’ve most likely never heard and quite possibly never heard of. The New York Scandia Symphony is simply one of the nation’s most adventurous orchestras, devoting a staggering ninety percent of their repertoire to either United States or New York premieres of works by Scandinavian composers. This cd is characteristic. Nielsen’s most familiar symphony is the widely played Fourth, “The Inextinguishable,” along with the fascinatingly voiced, call-and-response-laden Fifth. Yet the Danish composer wrote several other first-class works for full orchestra, collected here for the first time under the inspired direction of Dorrit Matson (revealingly interviewed here recently). It’s early 20th century romanticism, soaring, bright or lushly atmospheric, occasionally tinged with Eastern and Middle Eastern motifs.

The first three pieces, the Symphonic Rhapsody, An Evening at Giske and the Helios Overture share a robust melodicism that compares with anything Cesar Franck ever wrote. Also included are the crescendoing, darkly stately partita An Imaginary Journey to the Faroe Islands and the subtly uneasy, balletesque Amor and the Poet Overture, written a year before the composer died and inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s doomed infatuation with the popular singer Jenny Lind. But the centerpiece is the Aladdin Suite, based on the iconic Adam Oehlenschlager novel that sought to appropriate the myth as a reaffirmation of early 19th century Danish identity. The Oriental Festival March, the blazing overture that opens it, works off one of the alltime great catchy hooks, right up there with the Peer Gynt themes and the 1812 Overture. South Asian and Arab influences are alluded to if not directly in the suspenseful Aladdin’s Dream and Hindu Dance which follow, the pace picking up with Prokofiev-esque deviousness in the Chinese Dance – like his protagonist, Nielsen gets around a lot here. The high point is the haunting, vertiginous Market Place in Ispahan, soprano vocalese whirling in counterrotation with booming timpani against a shrill choir of high woodwinds. After that, the explosive arabesques of the Prisoner’s Dance are almost anticlimactic. The suite ends in a crashing, demonic blaze of voice and orchestra with the Blackamoor’s Dance. That the ensemble was able to complete a recording-quality performance of such a dramatic work within the boomy confines of New York’s Trinity Church speaks volumes.

In addition to this cd, the New York Scandia Symphony has also released three previous cds: a warm collection of Nielsen concertos; a collection of sometimes generic, sometimes fascinating suites by Lars-Erik Larsson and an album of concertos by pioneering early Romanticist Bernhard Henrik Crusell, whose post-Viennese School adventures are on par with pretty much anything Schubert ever did. The New York Scandia’s summer 2009 season includes an ongoing series of Sunday afternoon quartet and quintet shows in Ft. Tryon Park in Washington Heights.

June 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

David Goodenough Plays Vierne’s First Symphony in New York, 4/13/08

Scottish organist David Goodenough had the good taste and imagination to play the great French composer Louis Vierne’s First Symphony in its entirety at St. Thomas Church Sunday evening. While its fiery introduction and rousing finale are standard performance pieces in the organ repertoire, it’s not every day that this fascinating work can be heard all the way through. In hindsight, this isn’t the same Vierne whose wife would leave him for his best friend, who lost family and students in World War I, wrote the scathing, wrathful Third and then equally scathing, wrathful Fifth Symphony (although there is some foreshadowing). The First Symphony contains none of the eerie, macabre, atmospheric sheets of noise that would be one of his signature devices for the rest of his career. Rather, it’s a boisterous, generally optimistic work, a prime example of late-period French Romanticism, something Cesar Franck – who taught Vierne a thing or two about it – would be proud of.

Goodenough began the famous intro a little fast (resist the pun, resist the pun), but the piece eventually worked itself out. Vierne has the pedal playing the central melody, ascending toward a resolution that never happens. Finally, after several permutations, it bursts into flame, one of only two places where any real anger comes out. It’s followed by a pretty if generically baroque fugue, an even gentler, quiet, equally pretty, pastorale and then the symphony’s piece de resistance, the allegro vivace which is a devious, defiant little dance on the flute and woodwind stops that ends with a cynical flourish. Goodenough absolutely nailed it, bringing out every bit of disobedient bounce. The andante that follows builds up to the warm, Mendelssohn-esque melodicism of the famous finale, the pedals once again making the church rattle all the way up to the big, predictable, chordal conclusion.

Despite all of Lucid Culture’s incessant attempts to popularize the organ repertoire, it looks like it’ll take a much more substantial PR campaign before the general public will be caught dead listening to this. That being said, adventurous listeners would be richly rewarded getting to know both the organist and the composer on the program tonight.

April 14, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment