Real music, not modernist drek.
R. C. Walker | Encinitas CA, United States | 11/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"After many decades of tuneless and basically anti-musical modernisms - the monster children of the Second Viennese School - the current return to musicality is very welcome. It was only a matter of time. It must be very frustrating to be writing music which you know most people will hate the minute they hear it. Sooner or later the light dawns. Compare Arvo Pärt's dreary 1st and 2nd Symphonies with his wonderful 3rd.
We have minimalism and (horrors!) rock music to thank for opening the door to the return of classicism, romanticism, and impressionism. Although rock music is largely anti-musical in its presentation, genuine musical impulses lie at its core. This is the reason so many rock musicians turn to writing and/or performing real music. I mean, Sting has taken to singing Dowland fer chrissakes! His performances are still amateur-hour quality, but I say give him time and encouragement and he may even develop a decent counter-tenor.
Those of you who are familiar with the works of PDQ Bach may be surprised to learn that the discoverer of this music - Prof. Peter Schickele of the Dept. of Musical Pathology at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople - writes real music of depth and great musicality. Works with genuine recognizable tunes are popping up all over the place. Here are some more of them in a recording I chanced across in my favorite used CD/DVD store. (I paid $9 for it, which coincidentally is the current used price on Amazon - although of course you have to add on postage).
Milos Raickovich is delightful proof that something can come out of Serbia besides nasty dictators and genocide. This current recording contains works of genuine melody, wit, and interest - for the most part dating from the late 1980s. I'm not, mind you, nominating any of them as masterworks of the 20th Century. Raickovich isn't a new Beethoven, but he might well be a new Cherubini.
The title of the album is "New Classicism", and it contains 5 pieces. The booklet of notes is mostly not in English. The English part is 3 pages and not as informative as one might wish. A lot of it is music-jargon about Raickovich's compositional method(s) which fails dismally in its task of illuminating the music. The music itself is listed in the old-fashioned modernist method of omitting even a hint of key signature or opus number. Of course it's quite possible to write excellent music without actually having a tonic tonality. Still....
Alas, the entire disc contains only a very nìggardly 50 minutes' worth of music. One feels sure that Raickovich's output includes another 30 minutes' worth. Be that as it may, the CD's producers know that if we want music by this composer, this is the only show in town and we therefore must accept their parsimonious dole. Please buy used copies; that way these cheapskates won't benefit from your purchase.
The performances here are (primarily) by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra under the direction of the composer. We may assume therefore that we are hearing the music as Raickovich intended us to hear it. Certainly the music is very professionally and engagingly played, with good sound. Enjoying this music adds to our impression that it ends all too soon. (Less than an hour's worth on a CD is a thoroughly miserly offering.)
First on the disc is the "Happy Overture" of 1987 - and happy (not to mention carefree) it is, too. The main theme is broad and melodic. Its development is vigorous and holds our attention. There are traces and hints of minimalism (as with all the pieces on this disc). The overall feeling is as much contemporary as classical, and on the whole this brief piece compares favorably with some of Torke's best or with Schubert's Overtures in the Italian Style.
The overture is followed by some truly beautiful and ingratiating music, the "Three Romances for Violin and Orchestra" of 1988. In the 1st Romance, the writing for the violin is exquisitely idiomatic, with a very strong feel of Chaikovsky or even of Beethoven. The music is far too lush for anything calling itself "classicism", and what we have is romanticism in full bloom. The 2nd Romance is full of Puckish good humor. It's a delightful piece that makes one think of Sibelius. The 3rd Romance is on the melancholy side, again rather Sibelian in feeling. Igor Frolov, an accomplished violinist, shows the music off to its best advantage.
The most rib-tickling piece on the disc is the "Prelude and Fugue for Keyboard" of 1987. It is here performed by Margaret Leng Tan, who plays a pair of toy pianos simultaneously in an arrangement made in 1993. The effect is perfect for the off-beat music. Nobody would ever suspect this strongly minimalist piece of being anything but modern.
This is followed by "Dream Quartet" of 1986, a piano quartet consisting of a single movement that has 2 sections: an adagio followed by a good-natured scherzo which ends with something like a rippling barcarole. The piece is beautifully performed by something called "Ensemble Musica da Camera" - a chamber pick-up group? The influence of minimalism is strong here.
The longest piece on the disc is the last, "Symphony No. 1" of 1992. This consists of a garden variety quartet of movements: Allegro-Moderato-Scherzo/Vivace-Allegro with more than a casual bow to minimalism. The most obvious relationship of this symphony to classicism is its brevity (a little over 16 minutes). Surprisingly, this piece sounds very much like the American symphonic style of the 1920s and 30s. It's a wonderful listen, full of vigor and a rugged beauty. The last 2 movements are an irresistible flood of motion. Wow!
I strongly recommend this CD - what there is of it."