CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
15 JANUARY 2008
The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.
Andreae: Pno Trios 1 & 2; LocrEnLon [Guild]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Swiss musician Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962) was best known as a conductor. However, he was also an accomplished composer as evidenced by the two piano trios presented here. In fact they are so exemplary that one can only wonder why they have remained in obscurity all these years. Fortunately that injustice has been corrected with this magnificent release from Guild.
Written at the age of twenty-two, the first trio was Andreae's "Opus 1" and appeared in 1901. It's in three movements and very much in the tradition of Brahms and Dvorak. That's not to say it's simply a derivative clone of their chamber music. On the contrary there's a freshness of melodic invention, structural integrity and sense of forward drive that make it very much an Andreae creation.
The first movement contrasts two remarkably lovely themes and is notable for its sophisticated development section. The adagio that follows is extraordinary, because it also functions as a scherzo. The composer does this by alternating the yearningly attractive melodic idea that opens the movement with another rather fleet-footed motif. However in the end, the first theme prevails justifying the marking of adagio. The finale opens with an anxiety ridden melody that plays hopscotch with a couple of other gorgeous thematic ideas during the course of what turns out to be a sonata-rondo movement. All of these motifs are ingeniously related to the trio's opening and serve as the basis for its very satisfying conclusion.
The second trio, dating from 1914, is in four movements. It's definitely a late romantic creation where the harmonic structure is more complex than in the first trio. Also, there's a greater feeling of independence between each of the soloists. The early chamber music of Hans Pfitzner and Richard Strauss may come to mind as you listen to it.
The opening movement is striking for its thematic refinement and highly integrated construction. The overall tone is one of restraint leading to a peaceful conclusion. The adagio that comes next is meditative, except for an impassioned central section. The following presto is for the most part quite mercurial. But it’s also rather unusual, because it's the reverse of the dual purpose adagio/scherzo in the first trio, and contains a languorously restrained mid-section. The finale begins in almost Brucknerian fashion with a rhythmically galloping motif reminiscent of the great Austrian master's scherzos. A couple of lovely, more restrained melodies are then introduced and skillfully developed along with opening "gallop" idea. The trio ends in cyclic fashion as the theme it began with is reprised in a moving coda of remembrance.
The performances of both works by the Locrian Ensemble are exemplary and let’s just hope they give us some more lesser known romantic music very soon.
The recording is excellent with beautifully rounded piano tone and exceptionally smooth strings. Romantic chamber music fans and audiophiles alike will be delighted!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080115)
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Arnell: Syms 4 & 5; Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Following their highly acclaimed releases of British composer Richard Arnell's (1917-2009) second and third symphonies (see the newsletters of 25 July 2007 and 23 June 2006, Dutton now gives us his fourth and fifth. The fourth (1948) was for the most part a product of the World War II years, which the composer spent in the U.S., when he found himself unable to return to England in 1939. The fifth was composed in London between 1955 and 1957, but had to wait almost ten years for its first performance. Each of them is in three movements.
The fourth Symphony begins ominously with great thwacks on the timpani that introduce a mournful melody which dominates the opening measures. The timpani then sound another tattoo followed by an agitated, though generally more optimistic theme. These two ideas are co-developed and the first movement ends rather abruptly. The following andante is lyrically elegiac with a couple of stirring emotional episodes. The timpani, which seem to be the driving force in this symphony, once again make their presence known by announcing the finale. A volatile, highly angular theme then appears along with some other related energetic riffs, turning this movement into a scherzo in all but name. The work ends with dramatic outbursts from the brass and timpani somewhat reminiscent of the more ecstatic moments in Roy Harris' third symphony (1937).
The fifth symphony opens in medias res with two declamatory chords. A slow, stately introduction follows, after which the music becomes darkly pensive as its momentum ebbs and flows. The mood then turns more optimistic and the movement ends triumphantly. One of Arnell's more ingenious musical creations comes next. It’s a combination andante and scherzo where slow elegiac passages are interrupted by rebelliously hyperactive ones. The finale opens with threatening skies. But these soon clear revealing an idealistic pastoral setting where the sun beams forth in a "big tune," bringing the symphony to a joyous close.
Arnell was also a great film composer and his concert works, like his scores for the silver screen, are full of drama. Conductor Martin Yates, leading the Royal Scottish National Orchestra here (as he did in Dutton's recordings of the second and third symphonies), is obviously well aware of this. Consequently these performances couldn't be more exhilarating or make a stronger case for this music.
The recorded sound is good, but a bit closeted.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080114)
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Burger, J.: 2 Songs (w orch); Vc Conc, Scherzo…, Vars…; Kraus/Beiser/Young/Ber RSO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Many will remember Julius Burger (1897-1995) as one of the Metropolitan Opera Conductors in the 1950s, but as it turns out he was also a composer of some note. Born in Vienna, he studied with such greats as Engelbert Humperdinck and Franz Schreker before the rise of Nazism forced him to flee Europe for the United States. This disc of discovery from Toccata Classics will introduce you to some of his vocal and orchestral music, which has remained in obscurity far too long.
The opening selection is an absolutely gorgeous song for baritone and orchestra entitled Stille der Nacht (c. 1919). Written while Burger was a student and based on a poem by Swiss writer Gottfried Keller, this early Mahleresque lied is simply sublime! It shows the composer in total control of the vast orchestral forces called for. Hearing it you’ll find it produces a state of inner peace and tranquility that's quite remarkable.
A scherzo for strings (1939) follows. But the name is a little misleading, because the usual middle trio section is replaced by a full-fledged developmental one. The thematic material consists of a rhythmically catchy motif followed by and a more lyrical idea. Burger cleverly manipulates these in this fleeting, but engaging opus.
Next on the program you’ll find his three movement cello concerto (1938), which is a very welcome addition to the genre. By the way, the track timings printed in the album notes are wrong, so we’ve given the correct ones in brackets.
The work opens with an allegro [track-3, total time 09:48] that might best be described as a musical sunrise where mysterious predawn motifs give way to sparkling thematic sunshine. The interplay of these lyrical ideas is most effectively handled as the cello sings a couple of impassioned arias during the course of the movement. Having begun with a sunrise, the movement ends with a peaceful symphonic sunset. The composer dedicated the central adagio [track-4, total time 10:06] to the memory of his mother, who was killed by the Nazis, and it’s an exceptionally moving expression of grief. In the concluding allegro [track-5, total time 11:19] perky energetic passages, recalling what we heard at the beginning of the concerto, alternate with more circumspect ones. A cadenza precedes the final coda, which is no more than a brief flash of optimistic light.
The Variations on a Theme of Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach (1945) takes as its subject the refrain from one of C.P.E.'s keyboard rondos (Wq. 57, No. 1). Scored for a large orchestra, which includes a piano, harp and plenitude of percussion, it's an extremely colorful piece. The lyrical andante grazioso theme is subjected to eleven variations before the work ends in a majestic coda. Highlights include a tiny Tchaikovskyesque march (variation eight, track-14), and a marvelously frivolous scherzo (variation eleven, track-17).
The CD concludes with another song for baritone and orchestra, Legende (c. 1919), which is based on a poem from Christian Morgenstern's Christzyklus. It’s an ultra romantic setting worthy of Burger's mentor, Franz Schreker, that effectively contrasts Christ's enjoyment of life at a peasant dance just before the dark hours he would spend in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Baritone Michael Kraus is in fine voice for both songs, and cellist Maya Beiser delivers a sensitive, totally committed performance of the concerto. The Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra under Simone Young provides superb support for both soloists, and delivers what will probably be definitive performances of this rare repertoire for some time to come.
These recordings, dating from 1994, were made in one of Europe’s finest venues, the Jesus-Christus Church in Berlin. You'll find them quite good, providing you don't mind a more recessed soundstage.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080113)
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Charpentier, G.: Impressions d'Italie (w Massenet & Saint-Saens); Guidarini/Nice PO [Talent (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
The three romantic rarities by French composers offered on this magnificent sounding hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/4.0), disc are most welcome additions to the current catalog. They are symphonic suites which are in essence musical travelogues describing Italy, Alsace and Algeria where each of their composers spent a considerable amount of time.
Gustave Charpentier (1860-1956) is probably best remembered for his opera Louise, but you’ll find his Impressions d'Italie (1891) presented here a purely orchestral, equally rewarding listening experience. A student of Massenet (see below), he won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1887 which gave him a year off to study in the Holy City. His stay there was the inspiration for this extended five part symphonic suite.
It begins with a folksy sounding serenade that may bring to mind Berlioz' Harold in Italy. But here the cello, rather than the viola, is the star player. A lovely serene and relaxing interlude describing one of Rome's many fountains follows. A delightful trip on mule back through the verdantly hilly Italian countryside is next. Charpentier then conjures up a musical panorama of exceptional beauty, which for many will be the highpoint of this work. The suite concludes with an atmospherically animated snapshot of Napoli, leaving the listener with some wonderful memories of this gorgeous country, and no travel expenses.
In addition to his many operas Jules Massenet (1842-1912) also wrote seven suites for orchestra, the last of which, Scènes Alsaciennes (1881) is included here. It's a totally captivating four-part musical depiction of a Sunday in a typical Alsatian village.
The perky opening couldn't sound more rustic, but not for long as the old familiar chorale tune, Now thank we all our God, reminds us what day of the week it is. The bouncy dance-like cabaret scene that’s next must be some of the most infectious music the composer ever came up with. The following romantic interlude anticipates Delius’ The Walk to the Paradise Garden (1906), and shows once more what a master Massenet was at writing love scenes. The concluding section sees the return of the dance sequence briefly interrupted by the distant sound of trumpets and drums beating the retreat. The work then ends in a rousing coda where all the villagers join in a final rollicking hoedown.
Next we journey to North Africa for Camille Saint-Saens' Suite Algerienne (1886). This four-part travelogue begins with a musical depiction of an arrival by sea at the port of Algiers. The next episode effectively captures in symphonic terms the bustle of the city. The third section, which is a night scene, is the loveliest and most exotic sounding part of this fanciful creation. The finale, known as the Marche militaire francaise, will be familiar to many and commemorates the colonization of Algeria by France. As far as concert hall marches go, it’s one of the best, and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser that ends this suite on a real high.
All of the performances here by the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra under up-and-coming conductor Marco Guidarini are superb and leave what little competition there is in the dust!
These recordings were made back in 1993 and there are no center or subwoofer channels in the SACD multi-channel format. But no matter, because those having home theater systems will find that with just four channels, this hybrid disc produces a very convincing virtual concert hall listening experience. In the two-channel CD and SACD formats the sound is demonstration quality with a very wide, yet exquisitely defined soundstage. The strings are a little more lustrous in the SACD format.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080112)
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Leigh, W.: Agincourt Ov, Hpd Conc, Midsummer…, etc; Pinnock/Braithwaite/NewPa O/Lon PO [Lyrita]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Hearing this disc one can only regret the untimely death at thirty-six of English composer Walter Leigh (1905-1942), who was killed in action during World War II at Tobruk. He was a student of Hindemith in Berlin during the late 1920s and his music, while not as progressive as what his teacher was writing back then, has an elegance and freshness that make it most appealing.
The concert opens with Leigh’s Agincourt Overture (1937*), which was written to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. While it certainly follows in the footsteps of Edward Elgar, there’s an energy and sprightliness that are typically Leigh. As might be inferred from the title, the overture's "big tune" is the Song of Agincourt, which most will know from Sir William Walton's wonderful music for Lawrence Olivier's film version of Shakespeare's Henry V.
Modern day compositions featuring the harpsichord are a rarity, and Leigh’s concertino for that instrument with string orchestra (1934**) is not only a real find, but an absolute gem to boot! In three movements, it's quite neoclassical with a lightness of touch and Gallic charm worthy of Les Six. You’ll probably find it worth getting the disc for this alone.
Music for String Orchestra (1931-32) is a beautifully written work, which shows how well the composer learned his lessons from Hindemith. In four tiny movements, there isn't a wasted note in this six and a half minute mini-masterpiece. It represents a significant addition to the late-romantic English string music canon.
A suite for small orchestra derived from incidental music Leigh wrote for a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream (1936**) follows. It’s a delightful mélange of what sound like English country dance tunes along with passages that are stylistically related to such composers as Jean-Philippe Rameau, Henry Purcell and Felix Mendelssohn. There’s a sense of assurance and kineticism about the writing that makes this music a unique Leigh creation.
There’s also an overture and dance from his incidental music for a Cambridge production of Aristophanes' The Frogs (1936**). The former may at times bring to mind Bizet’s Jeux d'enfants, while the latter is more typically English sounding.
This wonderful concert of rarely heard British music ends with another overture. But this time it’s from the composer's comic opera Jolly Roger (1933*), whose plot involves piracy on the high seas. While the music is somewhat reminiscent of Sir Arthur Sullivan's in those G & S operettas, it retains a lightness and vitality typical of Leigh. Harmonically speaking it's the most progressive piece here, and concludes with an appropriately humorous reference to Rule, Britannia.
Nicholas Braithwaite conducts the New Philharmonia (*) and London Philharmonic (**) Orchestras in authoritative renditions of everything here, and Trevor Pinnock is at the harpsichord for the concertino.
These are analog recordings that date from 1979 and 1985, and while they're certainly acceptable, they come off sounding quite brittle. However, with rare and interesting repertoire like this, you'll soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080111)
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Smetana: Orch Wks V1 (Wallenstein's Camp, Richard III, Hakon Jarl, etc); Noseda/BBC P [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Here’s the first volume in Chandos' new survey of Czech composer Bedrich Smetana's (1824-1884) orchestral works. And what an auspicious start this generously filled disc is! In addition to three tone poems and an overture, there are five shorter works, which will come as completely new and welcome discoveries for most listeners.
First up, the symphonic poem Wallenstein's Camp (1859) based on one of Schiller's plays. In four connected parts, it begins energetically with a musical picture of busy daytime camp activities. This is followed by a soldiers' dance and a quiescent night scene. A call to arms is then heard and a stirring march ends these festive musical military maneuvers.
Another tone poem, Richard III (1857-58), which was inspired by the Shakespeare’s play, is next. It’s a flamboyant, but highly effective Lisztian characterization of the rise to power and fall of that villainous British monarch.
A third poem, Hakon Jarl (1861), based on a character depicted in a play by Danish writer Adam Oehlenschlager, tells the tale of another monstrous king, who meets a justly tragic end. This later effort sounds more like the Smetana we know from Ma Vlast (1879-1880).
Next we have six brief orchestral pieces that will be completely new for most listeners. The first of these, The Fisherman (1869), is a lovely aqueous accompaniment Smetana wrote for a reading of Goethe's poem by the same name.
The Peasant Woman (c. 1880), is a delightful polka the composer reworked for orchestra from an incomplete piano piece dating from the 1850s. You'll find it reminiscent of the dances from the Bartered Bride (1866).
Prague Carnival (1883), was one of Smetana’s last and most interesting pieces. It’s an introduction and polonaise that must rank as the most harmonically progressive music he ever wrote! As a matter of fact, when audiences back then heard it, they thought the composer had gone bananas! But by today’s standards you’ll find it’s marked by inspiration rather than insanity.
Fanfares for Shakespeare's 'Richard III' (1867), which was written for a Shakespearean festival in 1867, is very much as advertised.
Then there’s a grand overture in D major (1848), which is a delightfully youthful effort full of energy and optimism. Again, it foreshadows music that would appear some twenty years later in the Bartered Bride.
The CD concludes with a rousing march dating from 1864. It was written for an earlier Shakespearean festival at the Prague Provisional Theater commemorating the three-hundredth anniversary of the bard's birth. You'll find it the Czech counterpart of those common time ceremonial numbers the English are so good at turning out.
Conductor Gianandrea Noseda delivers impassioned performances of everything here, and the BBC Philharmonic is in top form.
The recorded sound is good, but a bit on the cavernously bright side.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080110)
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Clementi, M.: Orch Wks Cpte (6 syms, pno conc, 2 ovs, etc); Spada/D'Avalos/ Pa O [Brilliant]
AUDIOPHILE (3 CDs)
Classical period fans who missed out on these orchestral works by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) when they first appeared on ASV several years ago, will want this bargain-basement-priced, three-disc rerelease from Brilliant.
Born in Rome and educated there and in England, where he spent most of his life, Clementi was an incredibly influential musical figure during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Widely traveled and a real cosmopolitan, he was a very successful businessman who had his own publishing house and even owned a piano factory. He was also a brilliant pianist and a composer of considerable merit as demonstrated by the selections on this album.
All of his extant orchestral works are here, including his six symphonies, which disappeared from concert halls with the overwhelming rise to popularity of Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. You’ll find they are very engaging, highly melodic, finely crafted works well deserving of resuscitation.
The first two symphonies (Op. 18, Nos. 1 & 2) date from the late 1700s and are not individually numbered. They are charming Viennese delights well worth hearing.
The remaining four were written during the last twenty-five years of Clementi's life and bear individually distinguishing numbers. Of much greater significance than his earlier efforts, they're decidedly influenced by Haydn. However, there's an attention to contrapuntal detail and sense of forward drive that are Clementi trademarks. In the 1930s Italian composer Alfredo Casella completed and published the first symphony. But the version presented here is as faithful as possible to the original manuscript, and consequently somewhat different from Casella’s.
The second and fourth symphonies have the distinction of being binational as far as their manuscripts are concerned. That’s because parts of them are in the British Library in London, while others reside in the United States Library of Congress in Washington, DC. These are Clementi’s finest works in this genre and point the way towards Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and even Bruckner!
Conceptually speaking, the third symphony, which is subtitled the "Great National Symphony," is the grandest of them all. Here Clementi expresses his love for England by basing its slow movement and concluding triumphant finale on "God Save the King/Queen."
Clementi's one and only piano concerto is here too. It's his arrangement of his own piano sonata in C major (Op. 33, No. 3), and an excitingly frenetic keyboard spectacular that falls stylistically somewhere between Mozart and Beethoven.
Then there's a liltingly attractive Minuetto Pastorale and two engaging overtures in C and D major. Does the latter overture sound familiar? Well it should, if you've been listening to these discs in order. That's because Pietro Spada, who’s not only the pianist here, but also edited the score for the "Great National Symphony," used this overture as a replacement for symphony’s missing introduction.
Spada plays the concerto to perfection, and receives magnificent support from conductor Francesco D'Avalos and the Philharmonia, whose performances of the other works couldn’t be better.
The recorded sound is superb and should appeal to the most critical of audiophiles. All that plus three discs for the price of one make this a release of classic proportions. Don't pass it up!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080109)
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