The Temple of Glory, Leaves of Grass and other Friday highlights
Who was the greatest orchestrator of the Baroque? For my money, it wasn't Bach, Handel, Vivaldi or even Telemann (though he's close). Rather, for color, imagination and sheer weirdness, my man is the grossly underrated French genius Jean-Philippe Rameau. Do you want to hear what I mean? Tune in Friday morning a little past 9:30 for the Suite from Rameau's 1745 opera-ballet La temple de la gloire, beautifully played by the superb Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Man, those whole-orchestra trills — positively psychedelic!
French composers, perhaps influenced by the subtle sounds of their native tongue, have long emphasized tone color — sonorité — in their music. And that goes not just for voices and orchestras, but even for their writing for solo keyboard. You certainly hear it in the Preludes of Claude Debussy, which we're presenting in series during the 10:00 am hours through next Friday on WFCR. You'll also hear it in piano works from a century after Debussy, not by a Frenchman, but by a composer who admits the Gallic influence on his musical sensibilities. Matthew Whittall, a Canadian and UMass alum who's resided in Helsinki for a decade (and a recent guest blogger) has come up with a brilliantly colored, fully modern response to Debussy with his cycle "Leaves of Grass," a cycle of 12 pieces inspired by Walt Whitman's eponymous poetry collection. Think of Matt's music as doing for the modern grand what Debussy did to his beloved Bechstein: turn the good ol' "acoustic" piano into a veritable synthesizer. What resourceful, imaginative writing! And what knockout performances by Finnish pianist Risto-Matti Marin! Two of Matt's "Leaves" come up just before noon on Friday.
In yesterday's blog about the glut of "unjustly neglected" composers, I may have been too hard on Swedish composer Gösta Nystroem. Indeed, I didn't mean to single Nystroem out, it was just a review of a CD of his music that put me over the top. But you know what? The major piece on the CD in question turned out to be by far the strongest by him I'd ever heard. Much of Nystroem's music was inspired by the sea, whose inspiration is right in the title of the "Sinfonia del Mare." By turns placid and stormy, languid and gritty, and with a moving soprano setting of a poem called "The One Thing" as its centerpiece, Nystroem's "Sea Symphony" may not be destined to become a hit. But it's a compelling statement of major artistry, and even if Nystroem didn't ever write anything else as good, this one piece is enough to give him a secure place among his country's symphonic composers. Tune in just before 1:00 Friday afternoon.
NPR's very fun "Mom & Dad's Record Collection" series caught up yesterday with Ravi Coltrane, son of jazz legends John & Alice Coltrane, and a major force of the modern jazz saxophone. So, what was on the Coltrane household's record player? Not jazz or pop, at least not exclusively. No, the Coltrane sibs also grooved to the sounds of Igor! That of course would be Igor Stravinsky, and the sounds came from his first great work, the ballet The Firebird. Ravi grew up with Stravinsky's own recording; we'll feature the knockout new version by the Bergen Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Litton during the 3:00 hour Friday afternoon on WFCR.