19th Century

  • A Rhapsodic Collection of Violin Music


    Poems and Rhapsodies
    Solomiya Ivakhiv, violin.
    Sophie Shao, cello.
    National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine/Volodymyr Sirenko
    Centaur 3799
    Total Time:  78:37
    Recording:   ***/****
    Performance: ****/****

    The Ukrainian born violinist Solomiya Ivakhiv teaches at the University of Connecticut in addition to her work as both a chamber musician and soloist.  She plays on an instrument once owned by Joseph Silverstein.  Ivakhiv is noted for her championing of contemporary music.  The current album is split between older works and more recent pieces but all but two will be unfamiliar to most listeners.  All told there are six works that flirt with rhapsodic, less formal structures.  Each are little essays that flow from one idea to the next here.

    The first half of the program features music from the essentially the first quarter of the 20th Century.  Chausson’s more familiar Poem, Op. 25 is the oldest work here coming from 1896 and providing a connection to the French styles of Massenet and Franck with touches of Wagner. ( It was a favorite of Heifetz who has one of the hallmark recordings in the catalog.)  This is a repertoire standard as is Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending (1914-1921).  The latter receives moments that are a bit more relaxed in tempo.  This is a gorgeous work with the composer’s modal inflections coming through in this tone poem featuring interesting interaction with solo violin including several cadenzas.  The program opens with a rarer work, La Muse et le poete, Op. 132 (1910) by Camille Saint-Saens.  This is a rather unique piece with interesting solo work for violin and cello often partnering in gorgeous melodic writing.  Saint-Saens works through a variety of moods in this piece which feels a bit old-fashioned at times.  The performance of the Saint-Saens is quite good with excellent matching of the two solo lines.  The Chausson has some good moments though some of the higher intonation feels strained at times.  This is less the case in what is a far more stunning performance of the Vaughan Williams.  The orchestra seems to respond well to this music as well with fine playing from the wind section.

    For the second half of the album, we are treated to three rarer works.  Music by American composer Kenneth Fuchs is sandwiched between pieces by Ukrainian composers Anatol Kos-Antolsky (1909-1983) and Myroslav Skoryk (1938-2020).  The former’s Poem for Violin and Orchestra (1962) was reconstructed from the work’s premiere recording.  Carpathian folk material provides the inspiration for this quite romantic piece with some quite beautiful melodic writing and interesting harmonic twists.  The faster section in the last third is rather exciting and the ending has a few little dramatic touches.  Skoryk’s brief Carpathian Rhapsody (2004) features a variety of opportunities for virtuosic display within references to folk musical influences and gestures and feels like a nice little encore to wrap things up.  Fuch’s American Rhapsody (2008) gives listeners a chance to hear the composer’s notable orchestral colors and evocative writing.  The music seems to transport us into musical landscapes with a more romantic tinge and rich harmonic writing adding to its appeal.

    One thing that will take a little getting used to is the somewhat dry sound of the recording itself (sometimes it feels almost as if it were a live recording).  Sometimes it can lend the orchestra a thinner sound.  Just a tad more ambience would help here.  For the Vaughan Williams and Fuchs that seems to have been somewhat remedied.  There are some unusual balance shifts though that bring different instruments out more than they might otherwise seem from time to time.  Ivakhiv proves to be a fine performer who is committed to the pieces on this program and that love for these works and the interest to bring unusual repertoire to a larger public makes this a fine discovery.  The Vaughan Williams and the Fuchs are the real standout performances in a quite lengthy and engaging program that also features opportunities for some fine discovery of lesser-known music.

  • A Tapestry of Paccione & Reinterpreting Schubert

    Two new releases of piano music come at their subjects from quite different directions.

    Composer Paul Paccione's (b. 1952) music for solo piano is featured on this new Music for Piano  release from Navona (Navona 6376).  The three pieces here were all composed between 2012-2019 for Jenny Perron who performs them here.

    Tapestry Studies (2012) is a collection of nine etude-like pieces that explore different musical genres (habanera, invention, serenade, aubade--the morning equivalent of the evening serenade; and a march). It opens with a reflective, Satie-esque "First Things".  Paccione's musical language tends to be in a somewhat modal quality, though he does flirt with other whole tone and pentatonic scales.  The lyrical material tends to be in smaller cells that repeat in a minimalist way with the accompaniment also somewhat following in the same way.  The result are pieces that have a Post-Impressionist bent with a touch of Post-minimalist construction.  The final "Scribbling" picks the pace up a little bit to create a fast-paced technical exercise.

    In a far more meditative vein, the second work on the album, Book of Hours (2019), moves the listener musically through the common practice of reflection and prayer that occurs at each hour of the day.  The eight canonical hours are each given their own separate time here to provide illumination, or at least an entry point, to specific events in the life of the Virgin Mary.  Paccione's somewhat impressionistic style works quite well in these pieces.

    Unsent Letter (2015) is a sort of mini-encore honoring all those things we perhaps write out but for whatever neglect to send.

    These are quite beautiful pieces that make for accessible and relaxed listening.  Perron's approach connects well to the musical aesthetics here.  It would be great to hear her interpretations of Debussy or Satie as these are distant cousins to Paccione's music as on display in this release.  A gorgeous album of music that is highly recommended.

    At first glance, Pianist Hilary Demske's new album Journey for One: A Wintereisse Fantasy (Navona 6370) seems like it would be a straight-forward reading of Schubert's standard song cycle Wintereisse, Op 89 (1827).  The work is a setting of various poems by Wilhelm Muller.  The poetry informs Demske's interpretations of this music which has now been transformed, deconstructed, and/or redacted into a powerful new collection of solo piano pieces.  Schubert's romantic sensibilities are the framework for Demske's own departures that incorporate more dissonant harmonic approaches that can suddenly break into the music.  She also employs a variety of techniques that extend the sound of the piano (including aspects of strumming strings as one most striking early addition).  Percussion instruments are also incorporated from time to time as well.  The music thus takes on a semi-improvisatory quality that falls the whims of Demske's interpretation of the poetry as well as the source music as well.  Winterreise becomes a far more intense solo piano work as a result with the Romantic moments seeming to come crashing in to contemporary explosions of passion.  One thing this can do is give listeners pause to think about the poetry itself as an "introduction" to what follows.  The words now becoming inexpressible and only now viewed through Demske's lens.  One may want to have listened to Schubert's song cycle first with those texts in hand to gain a fuller appreciation of what she is attempting here in this new release which features stunning pianism.