The portrait of John Bull on the cover of this two-CD U.S. release gives an idea for the uninitiated of what to expect from the composer's music: it's intense, single-minded, and even a bit demonic (although the hourglass topped with a skull with a bone in its mouth is apparently an alchemical symbol). Bull was, in the words of an unidentified writer quoted by harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani, "the Liszt of the virginals." The most immediately apparent feature of his music is extreme virtuosity, on display especially in the mind-boggling set of variations entitled Walsingham (CD 1, track 8) and in the galliards of the pavan-galliard pairs. But the opposite pole in Bull's style exerts just as strong a pull: he is fascinated by strict polyphony by what would be called harmonic progressions, and by the close study of the implications contained within small musical units. As spectacular in their way as the keyboard fireworks are, the three separate settings of a tune called Why Ask You? on CD 2 are marvelous explorations of compressed musical gestures.
John Cage’s innovative work and unorthodox ideas profoundly affected Western music during the latter half of the 20th century, and this second of two volumes (volume 1 can be heard on Naxos 8.559773) concludes Katrin Zenz’s survey of his complete works for flute. The earlier chromatic compositions include an astonishing variety of playing techniques and a bewildering rhythmic complexity, while the elements of chance in the later works result in music that is always undergoing kaleidoscopic processes at once arbitrary and intensely focussed in form and expression.
This first volume of John Cage’s complete works for flute spans a fifty year period, from the Three Pieces for Flute Duet of 1935—deft studies in chromatic writing—to the 1984 Ryoanji, which involves the use of pre-recorded flutes and percussion with resultant diverse and intricate textures. Two is the first of Cage’s important ‘number’ series and is edgily ruminative, while Music for Two, written for any combination of the 17 different instrumental ‘parts without scores’ provided by the composer, is heard in an arrangement described by Katrin Zenz as a ‘new piece for flute and piano’.
This magnificent collection spans almost half a century, from three of Rachmaninov's Op 39 Etudes-Tableaux that Vladimir Ashkenazy recorded in 1963, to his version of the First Sonata, which was released two years ago. It's wonderfully comprehensive, including the four piano concertos and the Paganini Rhapsody, the works for two pianos (the Suites and the Symphonic Dances with André Previn, some smaller-scale pieces with Ashkenazy's son Vovka), and all manner of occasional pieces and transcriptions as well as the major solo piano works.
Pieter-Jan Belder has made over 100 recordings, including the complete Telemann Tafelmusik for Brilliant Classics, and this set is part of his project to record all of Rameau’s keyboard music. On this 3CD set are Rameau’s great sets of pieces for keyboard – Pièces de Clavecin en Concerts of 1741, the Pièces de Clavecin of 1705 and 1724, and the Nouvelle Suites de Pièces de Clavecin of 1726. In the centuries that have passed since his death in 1764, he has been consistently praised by composers such as Debussy (‘A composer I cannot recommend strongly enough is Rameau’ he wrote in 1903), Hindemith, Tartini, D’Indy, and Gluck – what a variety! All wrote of their indebtedness to him, and acknowledged his influence.
Quadrivium was composed in 1969 and marks the beginning of Maderna’s final creative period, during which he wrote impressive and headstrong works for large symphonic forces. Aura was commissioned for the 80th anniversary of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and was premiered in 1972. Amanda was written in 1966 and is uninhibited, cheerful and lyrical.
A majority of well-known composers have written at least a few chamber compositions in their entire lifetime. The most famous would have to be Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and probably Prokofiev. Some, including Respighi and Vaughan Williams, are overlooked or even rejected in today's society. Whether it's because of lack of originality or excessive complexities, these sorts of compositions are always left in the dark. Take Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata, for instance. This 35-minute work doesn't receive the complete recognition it deserves. It's overshadowed by the composer's piano concertos and symphonies, all of which are respectfully first-rate works in their own right.