CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
15 FEBRUARY 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.
Anderson, Leroy: Orch Wks Cpte V1 (incl pno conc); Biegel/Soloists/Slatkin/BBCCon O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This first installment of Naxos' new cycle of Leroy Anderson's (1908-1975) complete orchestral works is a most auspicious start. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Anderson studied at Harvard with Walter Piston. But unlike his teacher, who wrote many extended orchestral works, including eight symphonies, Anderson remained a miniaturist to the end, producing melodically immaculate short pieces. His association with conductor Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra was legendary and saw the birth of many works that would become American classics.
Belle of the Ball (1951), Blue Tango (1951), Bugler's Holiday (1954), and Fiddle-Faddle (1947) will be familiar to all. But there are a number of other unpublished treats here that won't be. The Captains and the Kings (1962), China Doll (1951), The First Day of Spring (1954), The Golden Years (1962), Balladette (1962) and Arietta (1962) are all delightful mood pieces. Clarinet Candy (1962) does for that instrument what Bugler's... did for the trumpet.
Then there's the festive Governor Bradford March (1948), which is a recording premiere, and the Chicken Reel (1946) that ends with a cock-a-doodle-doo unlike any you ever knew. The Classical Jukebox (1950) is based on the song Music! Music! Music!, which was popular back then, and anticipates the zany Hoffnung Festivals that would come a few years later. Anderson subjects the tune to some very amusing stylistic transformations à la Richard Wagner, Leo Delibes and Franz Liszt. There's even a brief episode simulating a stuck record.
The CD concludes with a real rarity, Anderson's three-movement piano concerto. It was written in 1953 and is the composer's most extended piece. Disappointed with its reception, Anderson soon withdrew it, and it wasn't revived until 1989. In retrospect it's a romantic treasure that's on a par with such pieces as Richard Addinsell's Warsaw Concerto. Captivatingly tuneful, it's very much worth hearing.
Pianist Jeffrey Biegel makes a strong case for the concerto, and Leonard Slatkin evokes exceptionally spirited performances from the BBC Concert Orchestra. This is a fine tribute to a man who was truly an American original.
The sonics are quite good, but the soundstage may sound a bit compressed depending on your speaker placement.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080215)
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Badings: Syms 2, 7 "Louisville" & 12 "Sound Figures"; Porcelijn/Janá PO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Having given us a significant disc of discovery featuring music by the little known Dutch composer, Julius Röntgen (see the newsletter of 16 April 2007), conductor David Porcelijn now turns his attention with equal success to one of Röntgen's compatriots. Henk Badings (1907-1987) may not be familiar to you, but he was a twentieth century symphonist of considerable ability as this new release from CPO proves. While the three works included here are definitely modern sounding, the composer's adherence to established classical forms makes his music quite approachable.
His second symphony (1932) was commissioned by conductor Eduard van Beinum for the Concertgebouw Orchestra (now the Royal Concertgebouw) and is in three movements. Traces of Mahler are to be found in the opening allegro, which has a propulsive energy that picks one up and carries you along. The following adagio is at first introspective, but then becomes declamatory, setting the stage for the antsy finale. This is a rondo with a syncopated recurring theme and references to motifs in the two previous movements. The symphony ends triumphantly with brass flourishes.
The seventh symphony (1954) was commissioned by conductor Robert Whitney for the Louisville Symphony Orchestra. They certainly got their money's worth in this four-movement modern masterpiece. The first movement opens in a dark and threatening manner. However it soon becomes expansively impassioned and ends on a joyous note. A catchy, insistent scherzo and mysteriously captivating adagio follow. The concluding allegro is energetic and triumphant with percussive outbursts that raise the level of excitement. There's a folk quality about this movement that’s in some ways suggestive of the American West. Perhaps Badings was paying tribute to the country where this work was commissioned.
In one extended movement consisting of eight connected episodes and a finale, the twelfth symphony (1964) is the most progressive work here. Entitled "Symphonische Klangfiguren," or "Symphonic Sound Figures," it's a tightly-knit creation spiced with aleatoric devices. Groups of instruments boil to the surface in what at times sounds like a combination of Bartok's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, Concerto for Orchestra, and Alan Hovhaness' Mysterious Mountain. You'll find yourself listening to this again and again.
David Porcelijn conducts the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra here in stunning performances of all three works.
The recordings are demonstration quality with an ideal soundstage and attention to detail worthy of this colorful music. Audiophiles will find the twelfth symphony a significant challenge to their sound systems. (Y080214)
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080214)
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Bajoras: Sym 2 "Stalactites", Ste of Verbs, Prel..., Zenklas; Petrocenko/Katkus/StChris ChO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
With this disc we are again indebted to Naxos for introducing us to the music of another little known composer. This time it's Lithuanian Feliksas Bajoras (b. 1934), who started out writing popular songs just after his graduation from the Lithuanian State Conservatory, and then turned to serious music in the 1960s. It's lucky for us that he did, judging from the four highly imaginative pieces for string orchestra featured here.
The second symphony subtitled "Stalactites" (1970) is a series of nine brief, connected musical impressions of a trip Bajoras took to Czechoslovakia. Dodecaphonic and aleatoric elements are present, but this is basically a tonal piece with some of most creative string writing one could ever hope for. This travelogue includes musical snapshots of such diverse scenes as the Tatra Mountains, old Czech castles and fortresses (including Vysehrad, which Smetana immortalized in his cycle of symphonic poems, Ma Vlast), as well as Prague. It concludes with a stunning virtuosic impression of Russian tanks violating the streets of that beautiful city during the 1968 Czech rebellion.
Suite of Verbs (1966) and Prelude and Toccata (1967) are early works with twelve-tone connections. But they’re quite listener-friendly, and nowhere as severe as what Schoenberg and Webern came up with. Both pieces give the orchestra a real workout and there are folk influences, which is not surprising considering the important role this music plays in Lithuanian culture. Suite… is seven musical characterizations of verbs as diverse as thinking, raging, suffering, and dancing. Prelude… contrasts a pensive prelude with a hyperactive toccata where you can almost smell burning horse hair!
Zenklas (1996), or The Sign, adds voice and percussion to the string orchestra. It honors the memory of poet Mindaugas Tomonis who, during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania, fell afoul of the KGB and died rather mysteriously shortly thereafter. It's a moving, emotionally-charged piece and yes, that's a police whistle near the beginning [track-19, at 04:41], which probably symbolizes Tomonis' arrest by the Soviets. About halfway through, subtle percussive elements intensify the feeling of reverence this music evokes from the listener. Towards the end, a soprano enters, singing one of Tomonis' poems. From a composer with something really new and different to say, this is one of the most affecting neo-romantic string works to appear in a long time.
There’s an innocence about Soprano Nora Petrocenko’s voice that’s perfectly suited to Zenklas, and may trigger memories of Henryk Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (No. 3, 1976). The Saint Christopher Chamber Orchestra under Donatas Katkus is a class act and performs everything here to perfection.
The recorded sound is very good except for a couple of places where the strings are a little on the edgy side. A radiant soundstage emphasizes the dramatic dynamism of Bajoras' music.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080213)
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Dunhill: Sym in a; Arnell: Lord Byron (sym port); Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
It's hard to understand why the two very appealing British works included here have languished in obscurity for so long. But thanks to Dutton that's no longer the case with the release of this disc, which represents the first performance of the Dunhill symphony since the 1930s, and the only modern day recording of Arnell's Lord Byron.
A student of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Thomas Dunhill (1877-1946) was best known during his day for his light operas, but his four-movement symphony in A minor (1914-16) shows he also had a more serious side. It's a beautifully constructed work with great charm and an overall optimism that belies the fact it was written during World War I. The opening movement and following scherzo are tune-swept, romantic outpourings that fall easily on the ear and may recall the music of Dunhill's teacher. The heartfelt, pathos-filled adagio would seem to reflect the horrors of the war years. However there's an Elgarian sense of pomp and circumstance about the finale which ends the work on a triumphantly hopeful note.
Richard Arnell (1917-2009) studied with John Ireland and is no stranger to these pages (see the newsletters of 23 June 2006, 25 July 2007, and 15 January 2008). Those who've enjoyed his symphonies will find the symphonic portrait Lord Byron (1952) equally engaging. It's in eight connected scenes, consisting of a prelude and epilogue that surround six brief musical episodes, depicting aspects of the great poet's life. Sudden shifts of mood mirror Byron’s volatile personality to the point where the work comes off sounding like the English counterpart of Richard Strauss' Don Juan and Till Eulenspiegel combined.
As with the symphonies, Arnell champion Martin Yates again conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in a superb performance of this colorful Byronic romp. He also makes a very strong case for the Dunhill symphony, which will undoubtedly rank as one of the most interesting discoveries of the year.
Except for some occasional edginess in the highs, the recordings are generally good with the Arnell coming off a little better. Ideally speaking, the width to depth ratio of the soundstage could have been a bit higher.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080212)
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Dyson: Nebuchadnezzar, 3 Songs…, etc, Woodland Ste; Soloists/Hickox/BBC SC&O [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
English composer George Dyson (1883-1964) came from a humble background and was a self-made man whose music remained pretty much undiscovered by record companies until the 1990s. Since then there have been a number of outstanding releases featuring his works, and this disc is no exception. Dyson, like Thomas Dunhill (see the recommendation above), was a student of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and composed a number of works in the great English oratorio tradition, including Nebuchadnezzar featured here.
Written in 1934 for the famed annual Three Choirs Festival scheduled for the next year, Nebuchadnezzar for tenor, bass-baritone, chorus, and orchestra invites comparison with another Babylonian musical epic, William Walton's Belshazzar's Feast of 1931. While both works are equally dramatic, Dyson’s is less cinematic and on a more spiritual level than Walton’s. The first three sections tell the familiar Old Testament tale about the miraculous delivery of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace. While there are stylistic similarities to the Walton here, the fourth and final section certainly stands on its own. It's an uplifting, devotional hymn of praise to the Lord, and one of Dyson's most inspired choral creations. You'll be moved!
The premiere recording of his Woodland Suite for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and strings follows. This is a 1921 arrangement of four charming miniatures written in 1919 for children, and originally scored for violin or flute with piano (shades of Elgar's incidental music for The Starlight Express).
The disc is filled out with more music for chorus and orchestra that includes two coronation anthems and Three Songs of Praise. The anthem O Praise God in his Holiness is a setting of Psalm 150 Dyson wrote for the coronation of King George VI in 1937, while Confortare (Be strong and of a good courage) was for Queen Elizabeth II’s in 1953. Both are exceptional for their simplicity and sincerity.
This is the premiere recording of Three Songs of Praise in an arrangement with orchestra done by Dyson in 1935. The invigorating first song, Praise, dates from 1919; the gorgeously meditative second, Lauds, from 1935; and the rousing third, A Poet's Hymn, from 1925.
The dean of English choral music recordings, conductor Richard Hickox, once again works his magic, eliciting definitive performances of these pieces from the BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra. Tenor Mark Padmore and bass-baritone Neal Davies are in fine voice for Nebuchadnezzar.
The sonics are very good with ideal balance between the chorus, soloists and orchestra. A wide, yet well-focused soundstage adds all the more to this dramatic fare. It must be noted though, that there’s a bit of digital grain in the more complex choral passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080211)
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Enna: Heisse Liebe (cpte opera); Soloists/Bäumer/NDR C&RP [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Born in Denmark of southern Italian extraction, August Enna (1859-1939) came to music naturally, and didn't receive any formal training until he was in his early twenties. He wrote twenty-five operas and operettas, one of which, The Little Match Girl (1897), became quite popular when it hit record stores a few years ago.
This release includes a complete performance of another one of his operas, Heisse Liebe, or Hot Love, which was completed in 1901 and is sung here in a German translation (a German-English libretto is included). While Scandinavian reserve and Teutonic rigor certainly characterize this music, there's also an ardent lyricism more in keeping with the Latin temperament. In this regard Enna was a master at writing extended melodies to the point where one might be tempted to call him the Danish Puccini.
There are only four soloists (a soprano, two tenors, and a baritone) with the usual chorus in this two-act tale of love, jealousy and murder. The opera takes place in a rustic village in Slavonia (an historic region of Northern Croatia), which leads one to expect that Enna would have incorporated Slavic folk elements into his score. But that’s not the case. In fact all of the melodic material is of Western European ancestry.
The dramatic overture is a series of impassioned melodic groundswells that set the stage for this amorous tragedy. The music is mellifluously chromatic and reminiscent of Cesar Franck and Richard Wagner.
The first act includes a gorgeous duet between the two ill-fated lovers Andreas and Arota. There are also several delightful choruses where the local peasants sing and dance in merry rustic fashion with a little oenological encouragement.
The highly agitated prelude to the second act is fraught with portents of impending disaster. But as it ends the peasants enter cheerfully singing about the grape harvest, and some lovely duets follow. However, things soon take a turn for the worse as the peasants assume the role of a Greek chorus, commenting on the developing tragedy. It’s then revealed that the jealous Janos, who was betrothed to Arota when they were children, has shot the two lovers. The peasants carry Arota's body on stage, and cover her with flowers, singing "Requiescat in pace!" It's a moving conclusion to an up until now unknown work that late-romantic opera lovers should find most appealing.
Soprano Johanna Stojkovic, tenors Lothar Odinius and Alfred Kim, and baritone Egbert Junghanns are the soloists here, and all of them deliver totally committed, enthusiastic performances. The choral and orchestral support provided by the NDR Chorus and Radio Philharmonic under Hermann Bäumer is ideal.
This is a studio recording and the overall sound is quite good, but the soloists and chorus might have sounded a bit more natural with a different choice of microphones.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080210)
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