Eight Composers on Piano Roll

When you consider the piano roll, what kind of music comes to mind? Probably Scott Joplin’s elegant rags, or perhaps the exuberant swing of Tin Pan Alley. Interestingly, a number of less likely composers, from Mahler and Debussy to the 80-year-old Camille Saint-Saëns, were recorded on piano rolls in the early years of the twentieth century. In some cases, these are the only historical record of the composer’s playing. Additionally, they offer …

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“Winter”: VOCES8’s Newest Album

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, today is the first day of winter. It’s a great time to grab a cup of hot chocolate and listen to the newest album of the UK-based a cappella group VOCES8, simply titled, Winter. The album, which came out in October, is a collection of glistening, snow-covered choral soundscapes. Plainscapes I, II, and III by Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) takes us to the frigid desolation of the forests of Latvia. The opening …

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Rachmaninov the Melodist

I feel like a ghost wandering in a world grown alien. I cannot cast out the old way of writing and I cannot acquire the new. I have made an intense effort to feel the musical manner of today, but it will not come to me. -Sergei Rachmaninov Sergei Rachmaninov was a composer who was out of step with the times. As twentieth-century music became increasingly atonal, complex, and in some cases …

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The 2016 Classical Grammys

Here is an overview of the 2016 Grammy Awards in the classical categories, announced earlier this week. The list is dominated by twentieth century music, both familiar and obscure. Several of the albums are live concert recordings. Best Orchestral Performance This is Andris Nelsons’ inaugural recording as Music Director of the Boston Symphony. The album includes Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10 (a work we discussed in this past Listeners’ Club post) and the haunting Passacaglia from Shostakovich’s opera, Lady …

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The Baltimore Symphony Turns 100

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Following a few seasons of informal performances in the 1890s, the orchestra played its first official concert on February 11, 1916. It began as the country’s first municipal orchestra, funded for 26 years by the City of Baltimore. In 1942, the BSO separated from the City to become an independent entity. The Baltimore Symphony’s season-long celebration includes a concert tomorrow featuring Joshua …

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Alisa Weilerstein’s New Recording: Rachmaninov and Chopin

I’ve been listening to a spectacular new recording released last October by cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan. The disc features two monumental works: Rachmaninov’s heroic Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19 and Chopin’s stormy and unrelentingly virtuosic Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 65. A few shorter works round out the CD: Vocalise, Rachmaninov’s famous song without words, and Chopin’s  Étude, Op. 25, No. 7 and Polonaise Brillante, Op. 3. Although Weilerstein and Barnatan have been performing …

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Gabriela Montero’s New Recording: Rachmaninov and “Ex Patria"

Venezuelan pianist Gabriela Montero is reinvigorating an old tradition: She performs all of the standard repertoire, yet she’s equally dedicated to improvising and performing her own compositions. She infuses her concerts with a refreshing sense of excitement and spontaneity, frequently improvising on melodies volunteered by the audience. The subjects of her improvisations have run the gamut from the theme from Harry Potter  and “Happy Birthday” to J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, …

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