• 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.

  • George Perle's Music for Solo Instruments


    Perle: Solos & Duos
    Alexi Kenney, violin; Curits Macomber, violin;
    Charles Neidich, clarinet; Jay Campbell, cello;
    Edwin Barker, double bass; Steve Dibner, bassoon;
    Horacio Guiterrez, piano; Leon Fleisher, piano; Richard Goode, piano;
    Conor Hanick, piano; Michael Brown, piano; Shirley Perle, piano;
    Bridge 9546 A/B
    Disc One: Total Time:  58:46
    Disc Two: Total Time:  58:59
    Recording:   ****/****
    Performance: ****/****

    American composer George Perle (1915-2009) is best known for his exploration of a more accessible 12-tone language focused around sets of pitches that in and of themselves created their own “12-tone tonality”.  This focus more on intervallic relationships allowed for an often more expressive style.  One can hear how this develops throughout Perle’s career in this new collection of a cross-section of works for solo instruments on Bridge Records.

    Most of the recordings here come from the last decade, many around the centenary of Perle’s birth.  Performers here are among the best in interpreting 20th-Century repertoire and here perform pieces often written specifically for them.  The music is a sort of overview of Perle’s approach to writing for solo instruments from the earliest set of clarinet sonatas from 1943 (aptly performed by Charles Neidich; who also performs the 1972 Sonata quasi una fantasia) to the more recent Bassoon Music (2004) written for Steven Beck who is featured here (as well as in the earlier 3 Inventions from 1962).  These are the sole wind pieces on the album.

    Perle wrote several works for solo cello that are performed here by Jay Campbell.  A set of Hebrew Melodies (1945) opens disc two which also includes a 1947 solo cello sonata and the Lyric Piece (1946).  These provide an interesting microcosm of approach for the instrument that can me compared to the composer’s 1985 cello sonata with piano that appears on disc one.  That album opens with solo violin sonata (1953) featuring Alexi Kenney.  This is a quite accessible way to invite listener’s into Perle’s musical approach.   Serial composers also tend to find kindred spirits in the Baroque and its forms and one can here this in the aforementioned bassoon inventions as well as in the “Sarabande” from the Solo Partita (1965).  A Monody II (1962) features Edward Barker in a work that allows us to compare the timbre and approaches to the double bass and then hear an equally brief work for solo bassoon thereafter.

    Spread throughout the album are three works for solo piano.  Horacio Gutierrez brings us the 9 Bagatelles (1999), which were composed for him.  Here is a collection of different moods that features interesting exploration of rhythm and harmony while also exploring the range of the keyboard.  Also featured are the Musical Offerings (1998) written for Leon Fleisher’s 70th birthday, who performs it here.  The piece is notable as a sort of protest work that was connected to Fleisher’s departure as Music Director at Tanglewood in 1984.  The piece also has a reflective quality that finds Perle connecting some of the stylistic tonal composers of the early 20th Century (Schoenberg, Scriabin, and Debussy) into subtle references in the writing.  The set closes with Richard Goode’s performance of a work also written for him, Ballade (1981).  In keeping with a trend that was appearing in contemporary music in this period, Perle also shifts away from the more Baroque models and instead flirts with Romanticism with a variety of lush harmonies and a sort of emotional rollerscape ending in a whisper.

    While one might prefer to hear the chronological progression of Perle’s music, the set does a good job of balancing the different solo timbres which allows for some aural comparison across the spectrum of Perle’s development.  The music itself is quite accessible and that is another of the hallmark’s of Perle’s musical language that, as intricately designed as it is, it communicates well.  As a sort of overview of his chamber music, the current collection is an excellent way to enter in to the composer’s sound world with excellent performances that are captured in a fine acoustic.  Many of these recordings come from a wide swath of locations and times but they have been balanced well to provide a smooth transition from one to the other.  Those who come across this release will likely already know what is in store, but there is a great opportunity to discover one of the unique voices of the 20th Century.