I finally remembered where that piece of music I had posted here earlier got it's leitmotiv from! Should've been obvious, it's Vesti La Giubba from Ruggero Leoncavallo's Paggliacci, which was known here as Bajazzók (The bajazzos):
Max Reger lived one generation after Brahms, and in many ways the two were carbon-copies: both were big men with rather belligerent character, both wrote mainly abstract music (althrough Reger wrote loads for organ while Brahms only produced a smattering), and both stood so much in awe with their predecessors (in particular Beethoven) that they procrastinated in producing a full-fledged symphony, preferring to hone their orchestral skills in a series of "preparatory works". In Brahm's case, he produced two massive Serenades and one huge Piano Concerto before gracing the world with his First Symphony. Reger likewise had written one 50-minute "Sinfonietta" and one monster of a Piano Concerto. Unfortunately, he died before he felt confident enough to commit himself to a symphony.
I feel Reger's Piano Concerto is even more pianistic than Brahms's two. And as an audience I'd much rather spend 40 minutes listening to the Reger's concerto than any of Tchaikovsky's. But I wouldn't hold my breath for concert pianists taking the massive effort to learn this big and obscure work.
Galina Ustvolskaya was one of Shostakovich's favorite pupils. Shostakovich predicted she would achieve worldwide renown, appreciated by everyone who treasures truthfulness in music. This has not come to be, and I think the usual explanation -- the closure of the Soviet bloc to the rest of the world -- is only part of the reason. Ustvolskaya has a very small acknowledged body of works, and her style is idiosyncratic and, dare I say, limited. The incessant repetition of small motific units (that are too wayward, too mercurial, to be recognized as ostinato figures), the crude voice blending, the harshly hammered tone clusters on the piano -- these are characteristics that can be heard on the early Octet of 1950 and will persist til the last of her compositions, the Piano Sonata No.6.
One may hear an affinity to the European-American minimalists, but Ustovolskaya's sound is far less mechanical than say Nyman or Reich (or her own contemporary Mosolov). Rather than evoking a clockwork process, the music sounds like a person trapped in a no-way-out situation, furiously and futilely banging on walls that are closing in on her. A similar organization can been heard on certain works by Gorecki, in particular his Lerchenmusic, but Gorecki sounds far uglier.
Benjamin Britten, despite being a great pianist, wrote very little for solo piano. All his solo piano works are early efforts. This said, there are many pleasures to be had there. For example these two evocation of night, the Nocturno, and the "Night" movement from Holiday Diary.
An attractive piece I just heard performed in concert and which is new to me: Trios Nocturnes for piano trio by Ernest Bloch:
The strings, played almost with mute throughout, and the iridescent flourishes from the piano conjure a hushed atmosphere redolent of Bartok's night music. The second movement is song-like and peaceful, making full use of the singing tone of the cello:
The tarantella-like third movement is restless and nightmarish:
2018 is the 150th anniversary of the death of Gioachino Rossini. There will be commemorations and concerts all over the world, and it is a good opportunity to get to know his music, especially the non-operatic works. Among these, the six Sonatas for Strings are probably the best known; the versions for chamber orchestra, performed by either I Musici or the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, have long been "audiophile" items. It is hard not to be swayed by the youthful optimism and melodic beauty of these works, written when Rossini was only 12 year old.
Few people consider Mendelssohn a countrapuntalist, which is slightly odd considering he was a great admirer of J. S. Bach, and had indeed rescued Bach's oratorios from oblivion. Although instances of counterpoints are few in Mendelssohn's most famous works -- the Violin Concerto, the "Scottish" and "Italian" Symphonies, or the Wedding March of The Midsummer Night's Dream -- he had indeed written volumes of fugues for both organ and piano, and at the center of the Overture to his oratorio Paulus is a brilliant two-part fugue.
I have the recording of Piazzolla's "tango-operita" María de Bueno Aires (conducted by Gideon Kremer and performed by his group) for a long time; I just shove it on the shelf after one listen for being incomprehensible. A review of a new recording on Gramophone made me take it out and give it a spin. It is still incomprehensible, and understandably so. María is a creature of contradictions: a whore who gives a virgin birth of herself after death. She is an archetype, a metaphor, rather than a character. So the libretto by Horacio Ferrer does not try to flesh her out, preferring to dazzle us with a swath of circumstantial details: the criminal, the lurid and the pornographic rub shoulders with the idealistic and the sacred. The head-spinning vignettes, not really effective dramatically, nonetheless hit us with a melodramatic force.
In life, María is a passive, fatalistic plaything of fate; after her death she begins to take charge and claim her agency and independence. So there is still some sense of character development after all.
The music in the "operita" follows the history of tango: in the first part you hear all the Piazzolla cliche to last a life time, but the jazz-inflexed second part is a delightful surprise.
Listening to the Angeles Quartet performing Haydn's Op. 76. My go-to standard for Haydn's string quartets is always Quatuor mosaiques, which play on period instruments, but the Angele's modern-instrument playing has impressed me by its stately nobility:
The theme of this movement (Op 76 No. 5, second movement) sounds somewhat Scottish to me, which shouldn't be too surprising given Haydn has arranged a large number of Scottish folk songs.