Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Georg Philipp Telemann: Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott

This release features five cantatas that Georg Philipp Telemann wrote for Reformation Sunday (more or less).

October 31 wasn't officially fixed as Reformation Day until the 19th century. Nevertheless, as early as 1617 many German states were using the first Sunday after October 31st to commemorate Luther's establishment of the protestant church.

Whether celebrating Reformation Sunday or the Feast of St. Michael (also around the same time), these five cantatas are fine examples of Telemann's sacred writing. The works span about fifty years, and development of Telemann's style is dramatic.

The earliest work, "Jesu wirst Du bald ersheinen" is a relatively sparse and conservative work from 1711. The use of cornet and trombone harkens back to the renaissance, giving the cantata an air of ancient timelessness. The basis of the work is a tune by Martin Luther, "Es ist gewisslich an der Zelt." The soloists' material is tuneful but restrained.

What a contrast to the 1757 "Welch’Getümmel erschüttert den Himmel." If "Jesu wirst Du bald" was unassuming and introspective, "Welch' Getümmel" is unabashedly celebratory and triumphant. In this cantata, trumpets and tympani provide flourishes and fanfares. The bass soloist sings highly ornamented arias. The choral writing is a blend of imaginative counterpoint and full-bodied harmonies.

The other works also have their merits, not least of which are the performances of the soloists. Soprano Simone Schwark and bass Markus Flaig deliver a seamless duet in "Wertes Zion," their voices blending beautifully. And alto Johanna Krell's warm, intimate singing of "Kraft und Worte" I found especially charming.

The Kammerchor der Erlöserkirche Bad Homburg has a smooth, rich ensemble blend and sometimes sounds bigger than it is (a real plus for "Welch’Getümmel").

Four of the five works on this release are world premiere recordings, and I think they all deserve a hearing. Telemann's best known for writing a lot of music. This release, featuring works spanning his career, reminds us just how good most of it is.

Georg Philipp Telemann: Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott
Festival Cantatas of the Reformation
Simone Schwark, soprano; Johanna Krell, alto; Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor; Wolfgang Weiß, Markus Flaig, bass
Kammerchor der Erlöserkirche Bad Homburg; Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble; Arno Paduch, director
Christophorus CHR 77405

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Unsinkable Mark Trail

Mark Trail's current artist/writer James Allen has not only made this vintage strip more exciting visually, he's vastly improved the quality of the story lines. And along the way, he's also having some fun with the character and the very nature of adventure strips.

Normally, adventure strips are pretty much self-contained. What happened in previous story arcs are seldom referred to in the current adventure (with the exception of a recurring villain cropping back up). Current comic strip creative teams, such as Mike Curtis/Joe Staton (Dick Tracy), and Tony DePaul/Mike Manley (The Phantom), seem more interested in world-building. Borrowing from comic books, the past shapes the present rather than having each episode take place in isolation.

Which leads us the beginning of Mark Trail's Hawaii adventure (see Mark Trail Heats Up for more about this fall 2016 storyline).

Mark Trail has been invited to check out an invasive species of ants on a small island. He checks in with his editor while going to rent a boat.

Of course, that's exactly who Mark Trail is -- a guy in a serial comic. But his editor does have a point. Trail's two previous adventures involved exploding boats.

What could possibly go wrong? Well, this. 

Fortunately, Cal found an abandoned rowboat on the beach. There was plenty of foreshadowing -- Allen shows it being by the yacht that originally landed on the island and inadvertently left the invasive fire ants back in the prolog to the story (see: Mark Trail: Suddenly in the Past).

Allen continued the subplot about Mark Trail's luck with transportation with these two sequences.

Great art, great storytelling, and a sense of fun -- that's why I keep reading Mark Trail. Plus, I want to see what he blows up next.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Duet for Violin and Percussion - Part 2

As part of my Diabelli Project flash composition series, I wrote five sketches for violin and percussion. They seemed to have potential, and so I'm expanding them into a larger five-movement composition. And I decided to document my progress on this Duet for Violin and Percussion (primarily to keep me on task).

First movement finished!

Below is the sketch score for the completed first movement. This duet is going to be a set of miniatures so the movements will be very short. Nevertheless, I felt the opening movement needed an introduction, which I created from the motives at A (which is also the beginning of the Diabelli sketch).

The original percussion part had timbales plus cymbal. I decided to stay with just timbales for a more consistent sound.

The overall structure for the movement is A-B-A'. The return of the opening material is modified to change its direction and point towards the final cadence.

The overall playing time should be about 2:45 or so. The next step is to play through the movement and make revisions, but I won't do that until I complete the other movements. That will give me an opportunity to look at this movement fresh, and be able to better assess how it fits into the overall work (since I'll have it all on paper at that point).

So the next immediate step is to start working on another movement. And so I have -- the fifth.

And for comparison, the original Diabelli Project sketch: