Thursday October 28, 2010

KEENE, N.H.

Discovering -- There were many CDs that analyzed popular classical symphonic works, but they cannot compare with DVDs that do the same. EuroArts has issued many such videos, all starting with the words "DiscoveringÅ " followed by the composer and name of the piece. I have reviewed them all in the past and now am happy to report that a boxed set of five DVDs from the series has been made available with the title "Discovering Masterpieces of Classical Music."

Each starts with an analysis of the work lasting about a half-hour with excerpts from the complete performance that follows. In general, the opening educational section is quite good, though some parts leave out many details for lack of time. Also for the most part, the performances themselves are on a high level.

The discs included into this collection are as follows: Robert Schumann, "Concert for Piano and Orchestra," conducted by Riccardo Chailly, with Martha Argerich soloist; Felix Mendelssohn, "Violin Concerto in E minor," conducted by Kurt Masur, with Frank Michael Erben soloist; W.A. Mozart, "Symphony No. 41," conducted by Hartmut Haenchen; Richard Strauss, "Eine Alpensinfonie," conducted by Giuseppe Sinopoli; and Johannes Brahms, "Violin Concerto," conducted by Claudio Abbado, with Gil Shaham soloist.

The value of all this to teachers of music appreciation and of more advanced classes is obvious.

Note: The older entries in this series have titles all starting with "Discovering." The more recent releases start with the word "Introducing." In both cases, the formats are the same.

Lord of the Rings -- Now and then, I find a book that would help my readers better appreciate a stage or screen work or a personality in the musical performing arts. A good example is a hefty book titled "The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films: A Comprehensive Account of Howard Shore’s Scores" by Doug Adams (Carpentier 2010).

After a good introduction and a mention of Wagner’s use of musical motifs, the rest of this 400-page study follows the plot of the trilogy just about scene by scene. The music to each motif is printed out and copious comments are made to explain how each plays its part in the telling of the very long (if not overlong) epic of the Ring and all who feel its curse. A CD is included to remind the reader of how 23 of the major themes sounded in the films.

Of course, there is an assumption that the reader can sight-read printed music or (better) play it on the piano. Or -- if one wants to go to the trouble -- play the scene under analysis on a DVD and get the full concept of how music enhances action.

The book is loaded with photos of the cast and sets, while a good deal of the visual appeal is enhanced by the artwork of John Howe and Alan Lee. I believe that every college film and music department should have a copy of this book. The same goes for those thousands who simply love the Ring films enough to put in the effort to understand how the music helped make them so popular.

Romerias -- When it comes to guitar music, I can turn to an expert for an opinion more knowledgeable than mine. So when I heard an Aleph Records CD titled "Romerias," on which Sergio Puccini plays music for solo guitar, I lent my copy to Jose Lezcano, educator, performer, composer and advocate of Latin American guitar music. Some of whose comments follow.

Note first that the composers whose works are represented on this disc are Lalo Schifrin, Enrique Bevacqua, Alfredo Rugeles, Salim Dada, Astor Piazzolla, Manuel de Falla, John Duarte, Hernan Navarro and Sabina Puccini.

Lezcano calls this collection "a special treat." He admires "the alternately jazz-inflected, Latin-styled pieces [which] are very melodic, whimsical, and expressive." He notes that Brouwer’s "Homages" cover a wide range of styles. (Note: Some of the composers evoked in this fascinating set of short pieces are Debussy, Prokovief, Villa Lobos, and Stravinsky.)

He admires Puccini’s playing but would wish "at times for a more flexible sense of tempo and phrasing" and believes that the soloist would have benefited from a recording space with greater ambience. Professor Lezcano sums up positively thus: "All in all, a worthwhile CD." With this opinion I readily concur.

Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.