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Thomas Fortmann: Gimme Twelve by various artists: Fortmann is the kind of composer about whom it’s tempting to say that he’s “still finding his voice.” On the evidence of these seven neo-impressionistic chamber pieces, however, he’s probably not looking. Other than their adherence to the chromatic scale, little unites them, resulting in a stylistic eclecticism made even more striking by the employment of five different ensembles and one solo organist to do the performing. A trio bangs and clangs its way through the 22-minute “Grafeneck 1940” while a septet animates two spirited excerpts from a chamber opera. Yet, taken individually (and “Grafeneck” perhaps excepted), the performances satisfy, particularly the Concertina Gregoriano and “The Murder of a Buttercup.”
Ernst Krenek, Piano Music, Volume Two by Stanislav Khristenko: Besides being one of the 20th century’s most formidable composers, Krenek was a gifted explicator of musical complexities—his 1939 book Music Here and Now, especially on the topic of atonality and its relationship to what came before, is a marvel of lucidity. The pianist Stanislav Khristenko, in turn, is a gifted interpreter of Krenek’s music, rendering it with a sensitivity, liveliness, and clarity that even listeners unfamiliar with the “language” will find hard to resist. Khristenko, in other words, understands Krenek’s ideas and how they developed. He even manages (with help from Peter Tregear’s liner notes) to put across that most elusive of Krenek’s qualities: his sense of humor.
God Save … by Zsigmond Szathmáry: To Brits and us their country cousins, two of these “original compositions on national hymns and anthems” will sound especially familiar as their melodies, whether going by the name of “God Save the King” or “America (My Country ’Tis of Thee)” are identical. What keeps their juxtaposition from sounding repetitious is that the Hungarian Franz Liszt arranged one and the American Charles Ives the other—and that Szathmáry, an 81-year-old organist of exceptional sensitivity, articulates their differences with eloquence and enthusiasm. But most ear-opening of all is Davide da Bergamo’s “Sinfonia col tanto applaudito inno popolare ’Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.’” It’s not every organist about whom one thinks, “He sounds as if he’s having fun!”
Adam Wesolowski: Industrially by various artists: The title refers to the ornamental use of industrial sounds (percussive mainly) in both Silver Concerto (the second of this album’s three concerti) and Industrial Sinfonia. In the latter, the sounds of industrial machines augment the swooping strings of AUKSO—the Chamber Orchestra of the City of Tychy. In the former, dripping water and what might be pickaxes hitting silver-mine walls augment the glistening tones of the harpsichordist Aleksandra Antosiewicz and the Silesian Chamber Orchestra. Subsumed by vigorous tempi, easily processed melodies, and usually both, such gimmicks do not distract. The vigorous tempi and the easily processed melodies of Euphory Concerto and Encore Concerto are gimmick free.
Knowing where to begin with the rich and variegated legacy of the great film and television composer Ennio Morricone, who died recently at age 91, can be daunting. Not only did Morricone record over 500 soundtracks, but he also saw his most popular pieces reissued on over 100 compilations. Many of the latter are interchangeable. Two that aren’t: Virgin’s single-disc Film Music, Volume One (1987) and Rhino’s two-disc The Ennio Morricone Anthology: A Fistful of Film Music (1995).
What sets them apart, other than their inclusion of the underappreciated “Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion,” is a flow achieved by judicious track selection and sequencing (a feat especially impressive in A Fistful of Film Music, the running order of which is strictly chronological). Whether representing the Spaghetti Westerns, the Europe-only obscurities, or the international blockbusters, both collections make clear that the ability of Morricone’s finest music to stir and to elevate the emotions is by no means beholden to its cinematic sources.