CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
15 MARCH 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.
Elgar: Sym 3 (elab Payne); So…, Pomp... No 6; Hickox/A.PartSing/BBCWalNa O [Chandos (Hybrid)]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Towards the end of his life Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) made a variety of partial sketches for a third symphony, but never completed it. Then in 1972 the distinguished British musicologist and composer Anthony Payne (b. 1936) became interested in assembling these fragments into a performable approximation of what Elgar might have had in mind.
The time and effort Payne expended in doing this defies description; and, it wasn't until twenty-six years later (1998) that his “elaboration” of this work, as he called it, was first performed. Its popularity over the past ten years in recording studios and concert halls bears witness to how well he achieved his goal.
The symphony's first movement is in extended sonata form with a statement section that's the very essence of Elgar. This is not that surprising considering it's the only part of the symphony where the composer's sketches run continuously. The work opens with a magnificent pelagic wave-like theme that Elgar had originally intended to use in his uncompleted oratorio The Last Judgement (1907). Payne utilizes this along with several additional lyrical ideas from other sketches to assemble an opening movement of totally convincing Elgarian proportions. The final coda is a magical combination of the wistful and triumphant.
The next movement is a combination scherzo-intermezzo-rondo, whose main theme is derived from some incidental music Elgar wrote for Laurence Binyon's play Arthur (1923). Here Payne captures Elgar’s lighter side to great effect.
Ideas from The Last Judgement once again play a role in the solemn adagio, which is some of the darkest Elgar you'll ever hear. It's not surprising to learn the composer was sketching this on his deathbed and handed it to his violinist friend W.H. (Billy) Reed saying, "Billy, this is the end."
After a resplendent brass fanfare à la Payne, more material from Arthur is used to flesh out the final allegro. In cyclic fashion, all of the significant ideas from the previous three movements make a final appearance. As for the ending, Payne was very much on his own, and opted for a final crescendo-diminuendo similar to what Elgar had done in The Wagon Passes section of his Nursery Suite (1931). It was a fine choice, because it concludes this "elaboration" of love indecisively as the music fades into the distance, reminding us we'll never really know how Sir Edward would have ended it.
The program concludes with two more stunning reconstructions Payne did of Elgar's memorial ode So Many True Princesses Who Have Gone (1932), and what would have been the sixth of his Pomp and Circumstance Marches (c. 1930). The words for the ode are taken from a poem written by John Masefield in honor of Queen Mother Alexandra, who had died in 1925. Although it was originally for chorus and military band, as of a few years ago only a vocal score with piano accompaniment existed. Then in 2002 Payne conjured up this version with full orchestra. It demonstrates beyond a doubt that even as of a year before his death, Sir Edward had lost none of his creative powers.
Discovered in 1996, the sketches for the march were quite diverse. Consequently in his desire to adhere to them as closely as possible, Payne's orchestral reworking of it (2005-06) resulted in the most rhythmically complex of the six marches. You'll find it a thrilling discovery where its final measures look back to that old graduation favorite of a first march, and forward to Sir William Walton's Crown Imperial (1937) and Orb and Sceptre (1953).
While Richard Hickox’s interpretations of Elgar's first two symphonies were exceptional (see the newsletter of 15 September 2007), this one of the third (once again on a hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), disc) is in a class by itself. That's because his performance seems to conjure up the spirit of Elgar better than any of the other currently available recordings of it.
More specifically, his superior sense of pacing and dynamics, as well as a better feeling for the big picture of this complex score, give him the edge. But none of this would have been possible without the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which couldn't be a more sympathetic partner in these proceedings. That also holds true for the march and the ode, where the Adrian Partington Singers deserve accolades as well.
The recording is excellent from the soundstage perspective, but as far as frequency response is concerned, the highs are at times a bit over the top in both the CD and SACD formats. A comparison with Hickox's previous recording of the first symphony (see above) would seem to indicate this latest release was cut at a higher level, which may explain this. In any case, these outstanding performances of some music that's a real curiosity will soon have you forgetting any aural shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080315)
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Huber, H.: Pno Qnt, Pno Qt "Waldlieder"; Fink/Aura Qt [Mus Suiss]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Not too long ago, we told you about some wonderful piano trios by the relatively unknown Swiss composer Volkmar Andreae (see the newsletter of 15 January 2008). Well, here's some more equally captivating chamber music by one of his compatriots, Hans Huber, who was some twenty-five years his senior (1852-1921). A student of Carl Reinecke in Leipzig, Huber became a highly influential figure in Swiss music towards the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries.
He was not only an outstanding composer and conductor, but also a widely sought after teacher, who was instrumental in founding several important Swiss musical institutions. He met and knew such greats as Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Max Reger, and Richard Strauss. And while their influence, along with that of Felix Mendelssohn, whom he greatly admired, is evident in his music, you'll find the two works here have an individuality all their own.
In the conventional four movements, the first piano quintet (1886-91) begins atypically with a slow andante. Not only that, but it immediately opens with a fugue for the strings whose main subject is then taken up by the piano. This becomes the first theme in a solidly constructed sonata form movement of exceptional beauty. Contrapuntal devices again figure heavily in the Brahmsian scherzo and gorgeous adagio. The latter is noteworthy for a couple of contrasting, somewhat sinister, march-like episodes. Speaking of marches, the main theme of the final allegro is a most captivating one that ends this work in triumphant fashion and with a nod to Mendelssohn. The skill with which Huber integrates his thematic material is quite amazing, and makes for an exceptional piece of chamber music.
You'll find the piano quartet (c. 1902), subtitled "Waldlieder," or "Forest Songs," after a poem by Gottfried Keller, is quite out of the ordinary. Although it's in the usual four movements, it's really a quadripartite set of miniature tone pictures describing natural moods and settings. The opening andante borders on the impressionistic and might be considered Huber's answer to Richard Wagner's Forest Murmurs. The following allegro section has the tempestuousness of a passing summer storm. The adagio is a piece of romantic writing that will tug at your heartstrings and, like the concluding energetic allegro, owes a great debt to Brahms. But the composer's use of carefully judged dynamics, pizzicato, and highly chromatic passages make this a unique Huber creation.
Sensitive readings by pianist Hans Joerg Fink and the Aura Quartet should win many converts to the music of this forgotten composer. There are a few bowed intonational anomalies, but they're of little consequence in the context of these totally committed performances.
The recordings are generally very good, with excellent piano sound, but the strings are occasionally a bit overlit.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080314)
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Martinu: Vn & Orch Wks Cpte V2 (2 concs, Czech Rhap); Soloists/Hogwood/Czech PO [Hyperion]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Christopher Hogwood and the Czech Philharmonic continue their survey of Bohuslav Martinu's complete works for violin and orchestra with this second very welcome release from Hyperion (see the newsletter of 30 October 2007). The three selections featured here were all written during Martinu's stay in the United States, and find him in a more introspective and serious frame of mind. This undoubtedly resulted from World War II and the subsequent Communist takeover of what was then Czechoslovakia, which further prevented him from returning to his native country.
The program begins with the Concerto da camera (1941), which is scored for violin and string orchestra with piano and percussion. This was a commission from Swiss conductor Paul Sacher and the Basel Chamber Orchestra. It was one of the first pieces Martinu wrote in America following his forced imigration there from Nazi occupied France. By his own admission, Martinu had a difficult time composing this piece because of the emotional disorientation he initially experienced in his new surroundings. In concerto grosso form, there's a neoclassical simplicity and pervasive lament-like malaise about it that must reflect the composer's unsettled state of mind over world events. Despite all this inherent anxiety, it's first-class Martinu that bears repeated listening.
The Concerto for Violin, Piano and Orchestra (1952-53) is a masterpiece, and it's a mystery as to why it's taken so long to appear on CD. A darkly lyrical, late romantic work, it displays a number of influences. The opening allegro is quintessential Martinu, with jazzy as well as baroque sounding passages. The adagio is quite meditative and contains one of the composer's most engaging melodies, which one could easily imagine representing hope. Those familiar swarms of buzzing-Martinu-bees are very evident in the energetic finale. This is the most optimistic music we've heard so far on this disc, and it ends this egregiously neglected work on a real high.
The CD concludes with the Czech Rhapsody dating from 1945. Originally written for violin with solo piano accompaniment, Martinu had intended to orchestrate it but never got around to it. So the Martinu Foundation requested another Czech composer, Jizi Teml (b. 1935), to do it, and that’s what we have here.
Written the same year as Martinu’s fourth symphony (see the newsletter of 30 March 2008), which many consider his greatest, you may detect thematic similarities between the symphony’s opening movement and the rhapsody. It’s sunny, highly melodic music that's spiced with neoclassical snippets reminiscent of Stravinsky's L'Histoire du soldat. There’s some pretty fancy fiddling in evidence, which is not surprising considering it was commissioned by the great violinist Fritz Kreisler. This is Martinu at his most inspired and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, particularly in this version with full orchestral accompaniment.
Violinist Bohuslav Matousek brings just the right mixture of musicality and virtuosity to all three works, while pianist Karel Kosarek's contribution to the two concertos is equally accomplished. As with their first release in this series, the support provided by conductor Christopher Hogwood and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra is always immaculate and even approaches the impassioned where appropriate.
The recordings are quite good, but for some reason the soundstage appears a bit narrower than on the first disc. The balance between the soloists and orchestra is right on, and the string sound blooms in the Dvorak Hall of the Rudolfinum in Prague where these recordings were made.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080313)
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Reger: Vn & Pno Wks Cpte V5 [Vn Son 8, Ste Op 103a (vn & pno)]; Wallin/Pöntinen [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Chamber music was a significant part of late-romantic German composer Max Reger's (1873-1916) output and constituted over a quarter of his numbered opuses. This fifth volume in CPO's continuing survey of his complete works for violin and piano brings together two pieces which show different aspects of his compositional style.
The four-movement violin sonata (his eighth) is a rather late piece (1911) whose form and harmonic structure represent both the old and the new. More specifically, each of the movements follows classical constructs, but Reger's preoccupation with ever-shifting keys produces a chromaticism that at times approaches atonality. But don't let that put you off, because with careful listening you'll get your tonal bearings and find this work a most rewarding experience. The Brahmsian opening movement is followed by a kinky scherzo that has all the impishness of Hector Berlioz' Queen Mab scherzo. A beautiful aria-like adagio follows, and then a rondo, whose rhapsodic recurring theme demands instant replay as soon as the sonata ends.
Reger wrote his six-movement suite (1908) as part of an agreement with his publisher to produce a certain amount of music each year with immediate appeal and salability. Don't infer from this that it's of inferior quality. On the contrary, it’s modeled after baroque suites, and there's a straightforwardness, lightness of touch, and variety about each of its sections that make for fine listening. Highlights include a prelude, aria, and gigue that could almost be by J.S. Bach, a perky gavotte and burlesque with some of those peripatetic key changes so typical of Reger, and a gorgeous minuet.
Given their many recordings for CPO, we owe a great debt to violinist Ulf Wallin and pianist Roland Pöntinen for championing lesser known repertoire like that represented here. Not only that, but we’re doubly lucky to have such outstanding performances of these works from artists of their caliber.
The sonics on this disc are ideal, with just the right balance between the two instruments and an acoustic that compliments both. Audiophiles will find this release a challenge to the concert hall believability of their sound systems as well as their intellect.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080312)
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Saygun: Vc Conc, Va Conc; Hugh/Tschopp/Griffiths/Bilk SO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991) is arguably the greatest twentieth century Turkish composer of serious concert music written in the Western tradition. His early training was in the country of his birth, but in 1928 he won a scholarship to study at the Schola Cantorum in Paris. It was then headed by Vincent d'Indy, whose pupils included Roussel, Satie, Varèse, and Paul Le Flem, who became one of Saygun's instructors. Saygun remained there for three years, returning to Turkey in 1931. Three years later he invited Bela Bartok to come to his country to help him with a comprehensive survey of Anatolian folk music similar to what Bartok had done with that of Hungary. They remained lifelong friends, and in many ways Saygun could be considered the Bartok of Turkish music.
The cello concerto (1987) was Saygun's next to last orchestral work and it radiates that dark autumnal glow so typical of many composers' last efforts. The first two movements are rhapsodically introspective, with passages that may remind you of Bartok, Ravel and even Ernest Bloch. Yet there's an underlying Eastern rhythmic intricacy and modality that are Saygun trademarks. The animated finale is full of highly dramatic passages for the soloist but ends in resigned, uneventful fashion as the soloist and orchestra fade into eternity. Throughout the entire concerto the composer is never at a loss for interesting melodic ideas.
The extended opening movement of the viola concerto (1977) is alternately mysterious and highly agitated, with percussive effects reminiscent of Bartok. A mercurially captivating scherzo follows where the soloist does a high wire act over a colorful accompaniment spiked with outbursts from the percussion. The finale begins with the viola in mourning, but the orchestra soon enters and encourages a more positive response from the soloist. In the end, though, the concerto concludes on a downer as the soloist and orchestra quietly vanish into the mists.
The performances are superb and perfectly encompass the considerable emotional spectrum present in this music. Cellist Tim Hugh's playing is sensitive yet dramatic and powerful when required. Violist Mirjam Tschopp's feel for the moody viola concerto is superb, and there's no hint of those intonational anomalies sometimes associated with that instrument. Up-and-coming conductor Howard Griffiths (see the newsletter of 20 December 2006) together with the outstanding Bilkent Symphony Orchestra of Ankara provide ideal support in both works.
The recordings are excellent, with an ideally proportioned soundstage and superb acoustics. The solo cello is perfectly miked and balanced, while explosive percussive passages will provide audiophiles with a discerning test of their systems' transient response. Pointy-eared listeners may occasionally notice conductor Griffiths coaxing these winning performances from his Bilkent musicians.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080311)
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Caucasian Stg Orch Wks (12 by 5, 20th c cmpsrs); Berkemer/Cauc ChO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
You'll find the selections for string orchestra on this disc by five twentieth century composers from the Caucasian region of the old Soviet Union a delightful curiosity. From Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia this is some of the most exotically varied music to hit the silver disc in some time. Folk influences are rife, adding all the more color to the works presented here. (P080310)
The program begins with a symphony for string orchestra (1941) by Fikret Amirov (Azerbaijan, 1925-1991), who is best known for his arrangements of Azeri folk dances. It's in four movements and written in memory of an Azeri poet by the name of Nizami. The odd-numbered movements are soul-searching andantes, while the even-numbered ones are peppery allegros. Keen listeners will detect references to that old, Russian favorite the Dies Irae in the first movement. As with most of Amirov's music, folk elements are pervasive.
Alexander Arutiunian (Armenia, b. 1920) is represented by his sinfonietta for strings (1966). Again in four movements, but only about half as long as the Amirov, this is a tiny Armenian gem with a catchy pizzicato intermezzo and a whirlwind finale.
Sulkhan Nasidze's (Georgia, 1927-1996) Chamber Symphony (No. 3, 1969) follows. This one-movement work is spiced with meow-like quartertones and a number of other inventive string effects. There are some high energy passages that must have frazzled a few bows when the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra musicians tackled this one!
Seven miniatures (no dates given) by Sulkhan Tsintsadze (Georgia, 1925-1991) and two pieces based on Armenian folk songs (no dates given) by Sergey Aslamazian (Armenia, 1897-1978) complete this imaginatively programmed Naxos release. Originally for string quartet, you'll find these arrangements for string orchestra, with occasional help from the percussion are some the most ear-catching selections on this disc. Colorfully Eastern, they have a folk-like spontaneity and rhythmic variety that make for some very infectious listening. Aram Khachaturian move over!
Judging from the spectacular playing on this disc, one can only assume that every member of the Caucasian Chamber Orchestra must be a virtuoso of some note. But conductor Uwe Berkemer keeps everyone together in what must be some of the most articulate and spirited performances one could ask for from a string orchestra.
The string sound is very good, but could have stood a little more breathing space, which would have given it that sheen and richness found on demonstration-quality discs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080310)
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