Lueders/Valkov Camerata Recital Program Notes

Lueders/Valkov Camerata Recital Program Notes

Four French Recital Pieces
Capriccio by Jacques Murgier (1912-1986) is the work of a violinist and former director of the Conservatoire Nationale. The piece’s main theme is in the “capricious” sounding 5/8 meter. It is actual a series of variants on a central musical idea. The piece’s central section is smoother and more dreamy.

Pavane by José Berghmans (1921-1992) is actually more of a comic cakewalk than a classic pavane. Its composer was also a musicologist, so the Pavane’s title and quirky dance rhythms must be tongue-in-cheek.

Serenade by Robert Planel (1908-1994) contains strong elements of Spanish Gypsy Flamenco dance. The outer sections of the piece give us the feeling of rhythmic heel-work, while the lyrical middle is reminiscent of a copla, or sung verse. Planel had a distinguished career that he began by winning the coveted Prix de Rome.

Romance by Henri Barraud (1900-1997) is the most dissonant piece of this set. Smoothly lyrical and controlled, however, the music makes pleasurable sense. In his career, Barraud organized performances of contemporary music and was music director of the French Radiodiffusion for over 20 years.

Gaubert: Two Pieces
Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) was one of the most versatile French musicians of the early 20th century. After winning the Paris Conservatoire’s premiere prix in flute and second place in the Prix de Rome (composition), he went on to perform with the Paris Opéra and the Société des Concerts du Conservatoire, eventually becoming principal conductor to both. All this he did while teaching the flute at the Conservatoire and forging an active career as a prolific composer and arranger.

Gaubert’s writing style has been described as “somewhere between Fauré and Dukas — colorful in harmonic language, with elegant melodic lines and brilliant, rhapsodic passagework” (The New Grove Dictionary). The Two Pieces fit this description very well, and idiomatic flexibility could be added. Besides the original publication for the oboe, the pieces have been adapted to the flute and to the clarinet.

No. 1, “Romance,” begins with a long cantilena, mostly in the oboe, against a waltz-like piano accompaniment. The contrasting section that follows departs from the waltz feeling and turns more overtly emotional. The music becomes more subdued for a quiet ending.

No. 2, “Allegretto,” is much briefer but more virtuosic for the oboist. “Arabesque” comes to mind when describing the oboe’s fanciful melodic lines. This second piece provides pleasant relaxation following the more intense previous composition.

Nielsen: Two Fantasy Pieces, Op. 2/3h
We are used to thinking of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) as a symphonist only.  However, especially in his early years, he contributed seriously to the chamber medium.  Nielsen completed five string quartets, a string quintet, a woodwind quintet, three violin sonatas, and some shorter works.

In 1889, Nielsen became a second violinist in the Royal Danish Orchestra. The steady income enabled him to compose. About two years later he wrote his Two Fantasy Pieces for solo woodwind and piano. Nielsen’s first conception was for the clarinet. However, the music is flexible enough and sufficiently modest in range to adapt well to the oboe.

The Romance is astonishing for so young a composer. The engaging melodies and then-modern harmonies make for a memorable listening experience. The piece’s central section differs subtly from the reprised first section, and Nielsen even cleverly inserts some counterpoint, which actually has an emotional impact.

In the character of a strutting folk dance, the Humoresque raises the listener’s spirits. As in Brahms’s folk-inspired dances, Nielsen knows to occasionally relieve the bright rhythms with some smooth lyricism. It all works to provide the listener with a buoyant miniature.

Altogether, the youthful Two Fantasy Pieces give us a brief yet brilliant foretaste of the masterful music still to come from the mature pen of Carl Nielsen.

Povolotsky: French Sonata (Exercise in Spirit of Poulenc) for Oboe and Piano
Born in Odessa, Russia in 1962, Yuri Povolotsky completed his education in 1986 at the Gnesin Russian Music Academy in Moscow. His chief teachers were Heinrich Litinsky and Alexei Muravlev. About five years later, Povolotsky moved to Israel, where he has made a successful career as both a composer and keyboardist.

Povolotsky’s symphonic and chamber works in several styles and genres have been performed in Israel, countries of the former USSR and in more than two dozen other countries around the world. Several of those performances have been part of festivals. His concert works have earned him two prestigious Israeli awards: the Jerusalem Olive (2007) and the Yuri Stern (2009).

Povolotsky is also active as a composer-performer of “Jewish Soul Music,” that is, Klezmer. He is artistic director of the Jazz-Klezmer band APROPOS.ART, in which he plays keyboards.

The Oboe Sonata was written in 2010. Its first movement captures Poulenc’s spirit beautifully: alternations and combinations of lyricism and playfulness.  The music flirts with neo-classicism; nonetheless, the composer’s personality shines through.

The Misterioso second movement begins rather like an action film, only to be momentarily interrupted by a feeling of film noir mystery. Then, the chase continues.

In Con elegia, a long plaintive melody by the oboe is answered at intervals by the piano. Emotional tension increases until an oboe cadenza brings back the tenderness of the opening.

In the finale, we hear a bouncy, often humorous dance with a punchy piano part, but the oboe has one passage of refined lyricism (a last reflection of Poulenc?) before a drive to the bubbly finish.

About this work, Povolotsky has written:
The title and the subtitle of the piece reflect its structure, which, however, serves only as the background for the development of the author’s original ideas. Even the composition’s form is not traditionally comprised of three parts, but of a complete four-part cycle, in which the neoclassical aura successfully coexists with modern rhythms and sounds. The world premiere of the sonata took place on January 30, 2013 in Moscow, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Francis Poulenc.

Barlow: The Winter’s Passed for Oboe and Orchestra (adapted for oboe and piano)
The Great Depression of the 1930s was an extremely difficult time for Americans. However, one positive aspect of this period was a heightened sense of patriotism. In music, this was expressed in the birth of American Nationalism, in which composers used or adapted American folk music. Two famous examples are Aaron Copland’s Billy the Kid ballet (1938) and Roy Harris’s Folk Song Symphony (1939).

Some composers absorbed elements of folk style to the extent that their original melodies seemed like actual folk material. That was the case with Wayne Barlow (1912-1996) when he wrote The Winter’s Passed for oboe and strings. This piece is based on a single original theme, but a theme that contains strong echoes of Appalachian hymns and songs. The opening makes an expressive exposition of the theme — first by the piano, then by the oboe, and finally both instruments in counterpoint. A faster section develops the melody. Then, the plaintive slow tempo returns, reprising the theme in the oboe, then the piano. A modest coda joins the oboe again with the piano for a soft, reflective ending.

Composer Wayne Barlow, together with Howard Hanson and others, helped to put the Eastman School of Music on the map. Educated at Eastman, Barlow taught composition there 1937-1978, eventually chairing the composition department and becoming Graduate Dean. Interestingly, along the way, Barlow’s musical interests shifted toward serial and electronic music — a far cry from The Winter’s Passed.

Hindemith: Oboe Sonata (1938)
The year 1938 was a focal one for Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). It was the year in which his great opera, Mathis der Maler, was premiered. This masterwork represented a new cosmopolitan direction for his musical style. Hindemith was searching for a music syntax and tonal organization that might be a worthy successor to the major-minor system of previous eras. Gradually during the 1930s, Hindemith had evolved his new style, and in 1938 he was in the midst of writing The Craft of Musical Composition, a multi-volume theoretical work that detailed his new discoveries.

The year 1938 was also the time when Hindemith composed his Oboe Sonata. In the course of his career, Hindemith wrote solo sonatas for every instrument in the orchestra, the majority of these works coming from the period 1937-1949. The Oboe Sonata was, therefore, one of the earliest composed and published in the series.

Rhythmic interplay characterize the opening section of the first movement. While the oboe exposes the first theme in 2/4 time, the piano accompaniment continually shifts its metrical accents, giving the impression of 3/8 time. In the transition to the middle section, the meter changes freely and the piano part takes on more significance. A smoother, less rhythmic middle section leads back to an abbreviated reprise of the opening section.

The second (and final) movement alternates between slow and fast sections. The somewhat baroque-style slow opening introduces a lively gigue-like section. A variant of the slow section returns, leading to the final section. This time Hindemith transforms the gigue into a quick concluding fugue, beginning in the piano but soon taken up by the oboe. As the end approaches, the piano recedes into the background leaving the spotlight on the oboe.

Bozza: Fantaisie Pastorale, Op. 37
To international audiences and musicians outside France, Eugène Bozza (1905-1991) is known for a remarkable number of chamber works for woodwind and brass instruments. However, in his native land, he also had a long and successful career as a conductor at the Paris Opéra-Comique and as director of the Ecole Nationale de Musique. His awards and honors included the Légion d’Honneur, in which he was made a Chevalier in 1956.

Musicologist Paul Griffiths has summarized Bozza’s compositional style as displaying “… a high level the qualities characteristic of mid-20th-century French chamber music: melodic fluency, elegance of structure and a consistently sensitive concern for instrumental capabilities.”

The opening Lent might have also been designated misterioso or exotico. The piano having laid down a rumbling introduction, the oboe plays melodies, runs, and flashy ornaments in exotic scales. This extensive middle section finally melts into dreamy impressionism before the movement ends with a reprise of the very beginning.

A true valse triste or gymnopédie, the moderato central movement gives the oboe extensive opportunities for lyrical expression against unusual harmonies in the piano part.

The finale is jolly and scherzando. Bozza gives us some rarely heard oboe figuration and turns of phrase that might re-define the traditional character of the instrument. As in the previous movements, oboe and piano are here tightly connected musically, giving us a clearly drawn 20th-century French composition.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink 2018

Review – Salon 2018

Review – Salon 2018

The splendid pianist Viktor Valkov joined Camerata’s core string quartet for the annual “Salon” concert of short, mostly light works, Jan. 28 in the University of the Incarnate Word concert hall.


Review – Notorious HBG

Review – Notorious HBG

Would someone please round up the members of Camerata San Antonio, lock them up in a room, and not let them out until they’ve recorded the whole damn cycle of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets?

The notion first occurred to me in March of last year, when the foursome delivered a stunning account of the “Great Fugue” in its original context as the final movement of the Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130. Then the first of the three “Rasumovsky” Quartets (Op. 59,No. 1, in F) closed Camerata’s Feb. 18 concert at the University of the Incarnate Word, and the impression was confirmed. Feral and untethered, but also warm and sweet, and always in motion, this was among the most Beethovenian Beethoven performances in my experience, whether live or in recordings.


Notorious HBG Program Notes

Notorious HBG Program Notes

Haydn, String Quartet in G Major, Op. 76, no. 1
When, in 1796, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was composing the six string quartets of Opus 76, Mozart had been dead more than five years, and Beethoven was working on such music as he three piano sonatas of Op. 10. Two years later, Vienna would see the publication of both Haydn’s quartets and Beethoven’s Grand Sonata Pathétique, Op. 13. While progressive musical tastes were moving to newer ground, an honored place was still reserved for the master classicist, the “father” of the string quartet.

The Opus 76 set contains two of Haydn’s most famous quartets: the “Quinten” (No. 2) and the “Emperor” (No. 3). Number 1 in G major was not composed first of the six, and it displays a curious combination of older style and the newer, quasi-Beethoven tendencies.The opening Allegro’s main theme is exposed in the cello without accompaniment at first, as if it will become the theme of a fugue. This is indeed picked up by the viola and a pseudo-canon follows. Like the spirit of the theme itself, this is one of Haydn’s jokes, and one he refrains from reiterating in the recapitulation. A few other Baroque-isms occur in this movement, notably some sequenced groups of chords.

From the second movement on, a more progressive, possibly even Beethoven-influenced, mood occupies much of the music. The Adagio features a hymn-like theme, which, like Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Adagio, partakes of the French post-revolutionary taste for slow, noble hymns.
The Menuetto (Presto) is actually Haydn’s first real “Scherzo” in the speed and spirit of Beethoven (although Beethoven borrowed the term from Haydn and other earlier composers). The sudden fortissimo during piano passages likewise betray Haydn’s knowledge of the works of his former student. The Menuetto’s trio section is like a rustic dance with its sharply defined rhythms and phrasing.

Haydn could be capable of more surprises than even Beethoven, and the opening of the quartet’s finale is such an instance. Our expectation of a frothy, G major opening is dashed when the composer gives us G minor instead. This serious opening (or is it another joke?) embroils us further as it unravels turbulent passages. Ultimately, Haydn masterfully changes darkness into light, shifting to G major in an unusually smooth and logical manner. We are returned to the jesting mood of the first movement, as the composer concludes what H.C. Robbins Landon has called “surely the most ingenious and astonishingly original Haydn finale since the ‘Farewell’ Symphony….”

Beethoven, String Quartet in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1
The three string quartets that comprise Opus 59 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) are collectively nicknamed the “Razumovsky” Quartets. They were commissioned by Count Andrey Razumovsky, Russian ambassador in Vienna, who was an amateur quartet player himself. The count stipulated that the quartets contain some Russian folk music. Only the first two quartets contain actual quotations of Russian folk tunes. However, the third in C major presents only a somewhat brooding slow movement as a reminder of Russian moodiness.

The F Major Quartet begins unceremoniously with an unusually lyrical theme heard first in the cello. This theme will come to dominate the first movement. The second thematic group is a bit unclear, but a series of pointillist chord sonorities in high and low registers forms an important punctuation. The exposition does not repeat, although the long, symphonic-proportioned development begins as if it were such a repetition. A fugal episode is central to this energetic, harmonically adventurous section. An unexpected appearance of the main theme introduces the recapitulation. The reaffirmation of this theme is also the foundation of the coda. First, it is heard fortissimo with block chords supporting; then, each instrument, in turn, plays its ascending first idea.

The innovative second movement is a scherzando that breaks with the traditional Scherzo/Trio/Scherzo scheme. It is a blend of scherzo and sonata form with three main sections and a development. Beginning with the simplest one-part texture, rhythm will clearly be the music’s governing element. Yet as the movement unfolds amid multiple, shifting moods, humor becomes the governing emotion. Examples are the fortissimo outbursts followed immediately by threadbare, pointillist passages reminiscent of the previous movement.

The Adagio has a profoundly tragic bearing. This is partly due to its minor key, but even more attributable to its “program.” In the margin of the sketch, Beethoven scratched “A weeping willow or an acacia over my brother’s grave.” This referred to an imaginary dead brother in a fictional scenario. Both the sorrowful character and the symphonic proportions of this movement hark back to the Eroica Symphony.

The Allegro finale is connected to the slow movement by a trill in the First Violin. Subtitled Thème russe, this good-natured movement’s main melody is an adaptation of the Russian song, “Ah! My Luck, Such Luck.” As in the opening movement, the cello introduces the leading theme. In contrast to this bumptious tune comes a smooth second theme of scale figures to round out the short, repeated exposition. The development and recapitulation put the Russian theme through its paces in assorted harmonic guises and contrapuntal manipulations. At the end, an Adagio parody of the theme leads to a brief Presto coda.

Glass, String Quartet no. 3, “Mishima”
In 1985, Paul Schrader directed a monumental, highly controversial film titled “Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters.” It was the documentary drama of the life of Yukio Mishima, a noted author of tragic novels (and to some, a crackpot) who advocated Japan’s return to the medieval mores and customs of the Samurai culture. To this end, Mishima organized a small army and fantasized a coup to take political/military control of Japan. Of course, the coup failed, and in Samurai disgrace, Mishima was required to commit suicide, which he did with the aid of his closest army comrades. Composer Philip Glass has commented that Mishima “really wanted his writing to become his life and his life to become his writing.” Film critic Roger Ebert summarized the film’s biographical scenario with the words:

There is the young boy, separated from his mother and held almost captive by a possessive grandmother, who won’t let him go out to play but wants him always at her side. There is the writer, returning to his desk every day at midnight to write his books and plays in monkish isolation. There is the public man, uniformed, advocating the Bushido Code, acting the role of military commander of his own army. On the last day of his life, he is ceremoniously dressed by a follower and adheres to a rigid timetable that leads to his meticulously planned and rehearsed suicide, or seppuku. Considering that he is a man fully committed to plunging a sword into his own guts, he seems remarkably serene; his life, his work, his obsession have finally become synchronous.

The film interwove flashback scenes from Mishima’s life, his last day of life, and dramatizations based on his writings. The astonishing musical score by Philip Glass utilizes a full orchestra, a string orchestra with percussion, and a string quartet. The quartet portions accompany the six black-and-white flashbacks and are some of the most effective segments of the whole score. Glass has remarked, “At the time of writing the film music, I anticipated the String Quartet sections would be extracted from the film score and made into a concert piece in its own right.” And the present work is the result.

A Note on the Composer: Music with popular touches is the hallmark of Philip Glass (1937- ). Appealing equally to fans of rock, jazz, and classical music, Glass is the ultimate “crossover” composer. This has been the case since 1965, when he developed a new musical vision while working on a film score with sitar player Ravi Shankar. Glass’s style became associated with a new trend in American music called “Minimalism.” (Glass despises the term, but then most composers resent being pigeonholed.) Minimalist music focuses on simple short melodies, which are repeated and varied over a space of time. This type of classical music is somewhat akin to popular “New Age” music.

Notes by Dr. Michael Fink. Copyright  2018. All rights reserved.

Salon 2018 Set List

Salon 2018 Set List

Thanks for the great concerts this weekend! Such wonderful audiences! We had lots of requests for the set list so here it is:

Marquez Homenaje a Gismonti (sq)
Prokofiev/Borissovsky Introduction to Romeo and Juliet (vla/pno)
Hubay Maggiolata (vla/pno)
De Falla/Kreisler Danse Espagnole (vla/pno)
Paredes/Golijov Cançao Verdes Anos (sq)
Lara/Golijov Se Me Hizo Façil (sq)
Briseño/Golijov El Sinaloense (sq)
Schoenberg Die Eiserne Brigade (piano quintet)
Vecsey/Cziffra Valse Triste (pno)
Debussy Beau Soir (cello/piano)
Ravel Piece in un Forme de Habanera (cello/piano)
Granados Intermezzo from Goyescas (cello/piano)
Kosma/Takemitsu Autumn Leaves (sq)
Abreu Tico Tico (sq)
De Falla El Amor Brujo (quintet)
Couperin/Le Tic Toc Choc (quintet)