ECM Classical

C. Michael Bailey By

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Where the jazz side of the German recording label ECM, founded by Manfred Eicher in 1969, has forged an immediately recognisable signature sound, its classical side has likewise flourished. Notable recent recordings like Andras Schiff's second set of Bach's Goldberg Variations (ECM, 2005) and his continuing series of Beethoven Piano Sonatas are outstanding additions to the international classical catalog. And there are others, both conservatoire- and folk-based in origin...

Trio Mediaeval
Folk Songs
ECM Records

Yes, if this recording does not make the listener wish to don his or her horned Viking hat and quaff mead from the skulls of the enemy, then the listener has failed to capture the smoke-fire warmth of this ancient music. Trio Mediaeval, comprised of Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth and Torunn Ostrem Ossum, are noted for their settings of various sacred texts. Here, the trio delves into its Scandinavian past to plumb the region's 17th Century folk music.

Betraying a vibrant tradition, this intricately polyphonic music offers a great counterpoint to the ancient Western Europe plainsongs. The trio's singing is characterized by a quicksilver precision, a shiny beauty like that of a winter scene in sunshine at 30 below zero. Except that the music is anything but that cold. This is populist song, what the listener can easily imagine being sung in villages of the period.

Several selections sport percussionist Birger Mistereggen, a specialist in the rare Norwegian folk-drum tradition. This music possesses a broad appeal with hints of the sacred, the pagan, and the roots of what has become the Scandinavian jazz scene. The harmonies are warmly inviting. Never mind that you, the listener may not understand the language, this is music as a sacrament.

Valentin Silvestrov
Bagatellen Und Serenaden
ECM Records

Ukrainian classical composer Valentin Silvestrov (born 1937) has been a mainstay on the ECM roster. The enigmatic composer shuns the thought of composing "new" music, instead describing his work as "...a response to and an echo of what already exists." Bagatellen Und Serenaden resulted from the immediate decision to record the composer playing piano in Munich before and after the official recording session had occurred.

The Bagatellen portion of the program was recorded by the composer alone in the early morning and late afternoon. These variations capture a late romantic personality in a lyrical mood. Silvestrov's is light and whispy, his "aria" melodic, simple, and nocturnal. Recorded in Munich's Church of the Ascension in February 2006, the deep sonic realm of the structure becomes as much a part of the music as the notes struck by Silvestrov.

Also recorded are string pieces. "Elegie For String Orchestra" and "Silent Music For String Orchestra" expand Silvestrov's piano language to the full string orchestra, retaining both the nocturnal and special sonics of the piano music. This music is performed by Christoph Poppen directing the Munich Chamber Orchestra with pianist Alexei Lubimov. This is not typical prickly 20th Century fare. Silvestrov is quite capable of composing lyrically interesting and accessible pieces that should be very understandable to even the greenest classical novice. These are delicate soundscapes, full of pathos and logos. This is stunning and sumptuous music to lose one's self in.

The Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer
Gustav Mahler/Dmitri Shostakovich
ECM Records

Violinist and conductor Gidon Kremer knows no musical boundaries. He has performed and recorded with equal brilliance Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Part, and Piazzolla. The wunderkind now turns his attention to the late Romantic music of Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich. Another "late" element manifests as the repertoire for this present recital, that is, music from late in each composer's life. The Symphony No. 10 - Adagio (1910) was the last composition by Mahler prior to his death from heart disease. The unfinished opening to a conceived five-movement symphony was later adapted for strings by Hans Stadlmair and here elaborated by the Kremerata Baltica.

This is the densely Romantic music of Mahler, crammed full of long melody, tension, and darkness. Kremer and his band pour this music on the surface of ECM's famous silence with nary a bit sticking. This performance was captured with a well-delineated sonic structure.

The 14th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich was also a work from late in the composer's life. The symphony was used by Shostakovich to cast a musical setting for the poetry by Garcia Lorca, Apollinaire and Rilke to be performed by soprano and bass soloists. Most listeners never make it this deep into the world of Shostakovich, one of the foremost composers of the 20th Century. Like the Mahler, this is densely late Romantic and is thus transcendent. If the listener is tired of the standard Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven, this is the disc to turn to.

Tracks and Personnel

Folk Songs

Tracks: Det lisle beanet (The little child); So ro, godt barn (Rest now, sweet child); Villemann og Magnhild (Villemann and Magnhild); Tjovane (The thieves); Nu solen ger ned (The sun is setting); I mine kete ungdomsdagar (In my reckless, youthful days); Gjendines benlet (Gjendine lullaby); Bruremarsj fre Gudbrandsdalen (Wedding march from Gudbrandsdalen); Rolandskvadet (The song of Roland); Solb¸nn (Sun-prayer); Eg veit i himmerik ei borg (I know a stronghold in heaven); Nu vilar hela jorden (All the earth now rests in peace); Springdans fra Vestfold (Dance from Vestfold); Eg aktar inkje (I donet think much of those boys); Den elskte Jerusalem (Beloved Jerusalem); Till, till tove Lova Line Danse, ikke gre na (Dance, do not cry now); Den signede dag (The day of joy); Folkefrelsar, til oss kom (Saviour of the nations, come).

Personnel: Anna Maria Friman, Linn Andrea Fuglseth, Torunn Ostrem Ossum: vocals; Birger Mistereggen percussion and jew's harp.

Bagatellen Und Serenaden

Tracks: Bagatellen (2005): I - XIII/ II (var.); Elegie for string orchestra (2002); Stille Musik for string orchestra (2002): I. Walzer des Augenblicks, II. Abendserenade, III. Augenblicke der Serenade; Abschiedsserenade for string orchestra (2003): I, II; Der Bote for strings and piano (1996); Zwei Dialoge mit Nachwort for string orchestra and piano (2001/02): I. Hochzeitswalzer, II. Postludium, III. Morgenserenade.

Personnel: Valentin Silvestrov: piano; Alexei Lubimov: piano; Munchener Kammerorchester, Christoph Poppen, conductor.

Gustav Mahler/Dmitri Shostakovich

Tracks: Gustav Mahler (1860-1911): Symphony No. 10 - Adagio (1910) adapted for strings by Hans Stadlmair and Kremerata Baltica; Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975): Symphony No. 14 op. 135 (1969) for soprano, bass and chamber orchestra Dedicated to Benjamin Britten: De Profundis; Malague; Loreley; The Suicide; On the Alert; Look, Madame; At the Santa Jail; The Zaporozhian Cossacks' Reply to the Sultan of Constantinople; O Delvig, Delvig!; The Death of the Poet; Conclusion.

Personnel: The Kremerata Baltica, Gidon Kremer, Conductor.

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