It’s not that music by Sibelius doesn’t get recorded. There are dozens of complete cycle recordings of the symphonies, about as many of the violin concerto, and a huge number of Finlandia and the other significant tone poems. But there aren’t many recordings of the lesser known works, and virtually none of the almost unknown ones. A series on Naxos is endeavoring to correct this slight and is doing it with definitive performances from conductor Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic. There’s a pattern to these releases – the main composition is the complete incidental music to a play filled out with four or five unknown vignettes. The latest features the complete incidental music for Maeterlinck’s Pelleas et Melisande, rounded out with Musik zu einer scene, Valse lyrique, Valse chavalersque, and Morceau romantique.
Segerstam and the magnificent Turku musicians play this music as it it was their prime assignment in life. The grave overture to Pelleas sets the stage with every note given importance. This is bold, grand, passionate music making usually reserved for something like the second symphony. The music for Pellas et Melisande is highly regarded but as played by Segerstam, it emerges as a major composition. The small pieces fare well and are given the same care and attention as the main offering. The recorded sound is robust, rich, full, and very exciting. Don’t stop with this release. There are three others that are equally worthy, and you can find them here.
Stephen Paulus, who died suddenly weeks after this album was recorded in May of 2013, was one of America’s foremost composers. He was commissioned to write a tribute to 9/11 victims by True Concord Voices and Orchestra, Eric Holtan, Music Director, and Mrs. Dorothy Vanek, a staunch supporter of the performers. The resultant piece, Prayers and Remembrances, received its premiere in Centennial Hall at the University of Arizona on September 11, 2011, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. The same forces perform on this new recording on Reference Recordings Fresh! series, which also contains other recent choral works by Paulus – Nunc dimittis, The Incomprehensible, I Have Called you By Name, Little Elegy, and When Music Sounds.
Prayers and Remembrances was written for chorus and orchestra, with a quartet of vocal soloists. It is in seven movements, with texts that were chosen from writings by Henry Vaughan, St. Francis of Assisi, Shelley, Williams Blake, and translations of Native American and Hebrew texts as well as one from Mohammed. Paulus set the texts with directness and care, often achieving transcendental moments of great beauty. The overall spirit is conciliatory, espousing hope through remembrance across many spiritual paths. I was especially moved by the setting of The Prayer of St. Francis and the a Capella anthem When Music Sounds to the verse of Walter de la Mare (“When music sounds, all that I was I am”). The performances are excellent and the recorded sound quite good. This disc is a must for every library of American music or for anyone who delights in hearing great verse beautifully set to music.
When I reviewed the original Universal Blu-ray release of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom for Sound Stage! Network I wrote this – “All of his films offer subtle humor through warm, often wacky characters we can root for. In a way, the movies are like contemporary fairytales. Throughout his various projects (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox among them), Anderson has emerged as a director with a refreshing vision.” Since I wrote that, Anderson has made The Grand Budapest Hotel, which serves to strengthen my observations. Moonrise Kingdom is set on the fictional New England island of New Penzance and tells the story of two young kids who run off together and the issues they cause for the sparsely populated island and for the Khaki Scouts, a thinly disguised version of the Boy Scouts.
In that same review, which you can read in its entirety by clicking the link above, I noted a lack of extras. Now Criterion has come along with an Blu-ray edition that looks and sounds every bit as good as the Universal (maybe even a little better) and does have a large selection of extras. These include a quirky commentary track with Anderson, Roman Coppola, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and others. There are also cast and crew interviews and selected-scene storyboard animations as well as a few documentaries on the film and a set of home movie clips by Norton. There’s a booklet with an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, as well as written commentary by young writers. Icing on the cake” a foldout map of New Penzance. Spend a weekend with this film and prepare to be delighted.
Peruvian born Miguel Harth-Bedoya has been Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony for 15 years. He is also Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra. It seems a natural turn of events that he has performed and recorded in Norway a quartet of compositions by fellow contemporary Peruvian composer Jimmy Lopez. The works are Peru Negro, Lord of the Air (a cello concerto), Synesthesie, and America Salvaje. All are written in a bold
personal style that while showing some influence of folk music, really defies characterization. I believe that Synesthesie is the most accessible, a composition comprised of five movements of similar length named after the five senses. This succinct work is quite impressive and clearly show’s the composer’s mastery of colorful orchestration.
A companion disc puts us back on more familiar ground as Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko, winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn competition, plays the Grieg Piano Concerto and the Saint-Saens Second Piano Concerto with Harth -Bedoya and the Radio Orchestra. There are already half a dozen good recordings of each composition in the catalog, but Kholodenko brings sensitive, controlled virtuoso playing to every passage and the smaller forces of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra achieve a transparency that other performances miss. I’d put Kholodenko neat the top of the list.
The Grieg is played with precision, sincerity, and lyrical grandeur, the Saint-Saens with playfulness, drive, and virtuosity. The sparkling, rapid final movement of the Saint-Saens left me thrilled and near breathless yet it never seemed bombastic or merely a note perfect exercise. The recorded sound on both the concerto album and the Lopez album is exemplary of well balanced warmth and transparency, in short, ideal. Kholodenko and Harth-Bedoya are recording the complete Profkofiev piano concertos with the Fort Worth Symphony, also to be released on Harmonia-Mundi. I’ll be eagerly awaiting them.
Sound Liaison is a Netherlands based partnership two bass players, Frans de Rond and Peter Bjørnild. They’ve assembled some terrific artists who play great jazz and given them high definition sound. I raved about their initial recordings on the Sound Stage! Network, and have enjoyed watching their progress in listening to their appealing new albums.
Their newest program is titled En Azul and features the Witmer Trio, Cajan Witmer – piano,
Han Slinger – double bass, and Maarten Kruijswijk – drums. The trio has been together for 20 years and all the players sound very comfortable in their skins. Their emphasis is on melody with ornamentation and variation that heightens a sense of melody rather than distracting from it. And they’ve picked some terrific tunes to work with – Carioca, The Gentle Rain, Moon River, Moonglow, Rhapsody in Blue, Recado, and St. Louis Blues, to mention a few. The playing is delightfully impeccable and the recorded sound nearly so. The trio sounds like it’s playing in a real space and is nicely spread between speakers with no exaggeration. The piano sound is perfect as is the sound of the many percussion instruments that are so imaginatively employed. The bass is solid; I could use just a tiny bit more focus on the attacks. Sound Liaison recordings are only available as high quality downloads. Many download formats are available including DSD and PCM 24bit/96kHz stereo. If you’re searching for real sounding intimate jazz, give the work of these folks a try. You’ll not be disappointed and it’s so good-natured, I’ll bet it will put a smile on your face.