Pavel Karmanov’s “Cambridge Music” for Piano Quartet: A Post-Minimalist Joyride

The music of contemporary Russian composer Pavel Karmanov (b. 1970) falls loosely into a category known as post-minimalism. Influenced by the work of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and others, this is music built on a strong, satisfying sense of pulse and a warm embrace of tonality. “Cambridge Music” for Piano Quartet, written in 2008, teems with sunny, youthful energy and bright, glistening colors. Its repeating bass lines and sense of “groove” seem to …

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Copland’s “Quiet City”: The Trumpet’s Mystic Call

HARK, some wild trumpeter, some strange musician, Hovering unseen in air, vibrates capricious tunes to-night. I hear thee trumpeter, listening alert I catch thy notes, Now pouring, whirling like a tempest round me, Now low, subdued, now in the distance lost. – opening lines of “The Mystic Trumpeter,” Walt Whitman Aaron Copland’s Quiet City begins with primal open intervals (fourths and fifths) which seem to emerge from a vast, wide-open landscape. The expansive pandiatonicism of …

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Beth Levin Plays Beethoven’s Last Three Piano Sonatas

Beethoven said that his final three piano sonatas, written between 1820 and 1822, were conceived “in a single breath.”  In April, 2012, pianist Beth Levin gave what has been described as a “revelatory” performance of these three Sonatas (Op. 109, 110, and 111) in the intimate setting of New York’s Faust Harrison Pianos. Luckily, this special concert, performed on an 1887 Steinway, was recorded and released a year later on the Navona label (“A Single Breath: …

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The Queen of the Night: Opera’s Most Deranged Mother?

This weekend as you celebrate Mother’s Day, count your blessings that you aren’t in the predicament faced by Pamina in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. In one of the opera’s most recognizable arias, “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen“ (“Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart”), Pamina’s mother, the Queen of the Night, flies into a fit of vengeful rage. Placing a knife in her daughter’s hand, the Queen of the Night tells Pamina …

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David Diamond’s Second Symphony: A Mid-Century American Masterwork

Listeners who go in search of “the great American symphony” will be rewarded with a handful of often-neglected mid-twentieth century masterworks. They include the Third Symphonies of Aaron Copland and Roy Harris, the First Symphony of Samuel Barber, as well as music by Howard Hanson, Walter Piston, William Schuman, Peter Mennin, Lou Harrison, and others. These composers came to prominence in the 1930s and 40s, championed by conductors like Boston Symphony music director Serge Koussevitzky. Their musical …

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Brahms’ Violin Concerto: Oistrakh, Klemperer, and the French National Radio Orchestra in 1960

This is one of those recordings that reminds us why David Oistrakh (1908-1974) is remembered as one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicians. The Soviet violinist’s 1960 studio recording of the Brahms Violin Concerto with Otto Klemperer and the Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française makes us forget about violin technique. Instead, we’re left with pure music. Every phrase “sings” with the ultimate sincerity. My former teacher, the Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa, …

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Musical Cryptograms: Five Scores that Contain Hidden Messages

Imagine transmitting a secret message by using the pitches (from A to G) that are embedded in a musical score. It’s been the subject of mystery novels and television shows as well as Philip Thicknesse’s 1772 book, A Treatise on the Art of Deciphering, and of Writing in Cypher: with an Harmonic Alphabet. During the Second World War, codebreakers considered the possibility that German and Japanese spies might use musical notes as a …

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