3-pronged talents, 2-forked tongues

While most of us struggle to master the latest technical gremlins on our instrument, prepare the rehearsal plan for our next appointment on the podium, or discipline ourselves to apply all those pesky articulation marks to our current composition, it’s humbling to remember that many musicians have been at ease wearing all three hats of performer, conductor and composer, sometimes simultaneously!

For the likes of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven it was all part and parcel of both getting ahead and being financially solvent, but they weren’t unique in possessing this trinity of talents. A couple of blogs ago I mentioned Giovanni Bottesini with reference to his 1880 Messa da Requiem, but he also worked as a conductor and additionally became known as the Paganini of the Double Bass for his virtuoso prowess on the instrument; you can hear modern-day virtuosi doing battle with his works for the instrument in The Bottessini Collection (8.572284).

Last week’s topic of film music threw up the name of Leonard Bernstein, who was similarly multi-talented. He can be heard in the Naxos Historical Archives as piano accompanist for his own Clarinet Sonata (9.81065P) and serving as concerto soloist, conductor and composer in works by himself, Ravel and Copland (9.80397).

duke-ellingtonJoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra continue this thread with their new release of music by the American jazz legend, Duke Ellington – big band leader, pianist and composer of more than a thousand works, who died in 1974. From tone poems (Harlem) to stage works (the ballets The River and Three Black Kings) to Afro-American fusion (Black, Brown and Beige), the supremo’s talent gets a good showcasing from Falletta and her players on Duke Ellington (8.559737).

The album is in the American Classics series, and comes with two recommended companion discs featuring the same artists:

• Gershwin (8.559705): “world-class Gershwin; Falletta really swings” – Fanfare
• Copland (8.559240): “wonderfully boisterous … splendidly vivid” – Penguin Guide to Classical Music

While the first part of the twentieth century saw the emergence of the Second Viennese School of composers comprising Schoenberg, Berg and Webern, it was during the second half that Peter Maxwell Davies, Alexander Goehr and Harrison Birtwistle came to be known as the Manchester School. All were students in the UK’s northern city in the 1950s and are credited with carving out a new landscape for British music during the latter half of the century. February’s new Naxos releases features music by two of them.

The disc of music by Maxwell Davies (8.572363) contains his concertos for piccolo and trumpet, with John Wallace as soloist in the latter – you john-wallacemay remember that Wallace performed during the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981, accompanying Kiri te Kanawa in Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim. Here he gives what many consider to be the definitive performance of Maxwell Davies’ Trumpet Concerto.

8.573052When Adam Fell is Alexander Goehr’s most recent orchestral piece and joins two other works on this new release (8.573052) that are unavailable elsewhere on recordings: Marching to Carcassonne and the Gabrieli-inspired virtuoso brass of Pastorals.

Finally, while we’re unable to offer a Naxos disc of music for serpent, that curiosity piece of an ancient tuba, we can try and put the asp in diaspora for all Chinese music-lovers around the world as they celebrate the Lunar New Year of the Snake by recommending a pick ‘n’ mix compilation from the ClassicsOnline website:

1.  Dance of the Golden Snake, traditional (8.828006); Chinese music.

2.  I have the serpent bought by Peter Fribbins (GMCD7343); chamber music.

3. Le serpent by Marcel Delannoy (IMV032); vocal.

4. Serpent’s Tooth by Phil Woods (CD93.009); contemporary jazz.

5. A serpent, in my bosom warm’d by Handel (from Saul) (COR16103); opera.

6. Charmeuse des serpents by Arensky (8.225028); orchestral.

7. The Serpent’s Kiss by William Bolcom (8.559244); contemporary piano.

8. Phyton, le merveilleus serpent by Machaut (AECD0982); vocal ensemble.

9. The Serpent by Ned Rorem (8.559084); vocal.

10. The Rainbow Snake by Erik Norby (8.226096); orchestral.