CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
15 MAY 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.
Bainton, E.: 3 Pieces…, Pavane…, Golden River, Conc Fant; Fingerhut/Daniel/BBC P [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Chandos hits the jackpot here with these première recordings of four orchestral works by British composer Edgar Bainton (1880-1956), whom we brought to your attention not too long ago (see the newsletter of 25 July 2007). A student of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, Bainton lived in England until 1914. Then, while he was en route to the Bayreuth Festival, World War I broke out and he was put into a prison camp as a British citizen in wartime Germany. With the end of the war, he retuned to England in 1918, but left in 1934 for Australia, where he spent the rest of his life.
The disc begins with Three Pieces for Orchestra (1916-18, revised 1919-20), which is a reworking of incidental music he wrote for a couple of Shakespeare plays that were given by the British POWS during his internment in Germany. The opening elegy is melancholically moving, while there's a rustic simplicity and infectious capriciousness about the following intermezzo. The concluding, garrulous humoresque was probably originally related to the character of Falstaff. You’ll find it has all the appeal of that lovable, rotund old wag, and then some.
The next selection, Pavane, Idyll and Bacchanal (1924) is scored for strings, flute and tambourine ad libitum. The opening pavane has all the delicacy of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky's things for strings. The flute makes its sole appearance in the next section, which is an exquisite study in pastoral bliss. The bacchanal is a festive piece of string writing full of catchy rhythms and a flamboyant finale with an assist from that tambourine man.
The suite for orchestra The Golden River (1908, revised 1912) is quite programmatic and takes it's inspiration from a short story by that name. The first of its four sections, entitled "South West Wind Esquire," is a most effective musical representation of a storm thanks to Bainton's masterful orchestration. There's a childlike innocence about the "Little Gluck" movement that's totally disarming and shows Bainton at his most charming. The fleeting next section, "The King of the Golden River," may bring to mind the scherzo from Igor Stravinsky's early symphony in Eb major (No. 1, 1905-07). The last number, "The Golden River," is a magnificent piece of tone painting that builds to an overwhelming climax and then fades away, bringing this spectacular Technicolor suite to a sublime conclusion.
The disc ends with a Concerto fantasia (1917-20) for piano and orchestra where Bainton turns the conventional romantic piano concerto on its ear! That's apparent from the very start because there's no sign of the orchestra for almost three minutes while the piano plays an extended introductory cadenza. What's more, rather than the usual three movements, Bainton's concerto is in four plus an epilogue.
The work's major themes are introduced in the opening cadenza and with the initial appearance of the orchestra. During the course of the first movement these are subjected to some rather sophisticated development that anticipates what Nikolai Medtner would do in his third piano concerto (1940-43). There's an element of humor about the scherzo, which is decorated with cheeky riffs that could almost be out of Richard Strauss' Till Eulenspiegel. The highly chromatic slow movement entitled "Improvisation" bears a similarity to the cadenza with which the concerto opened. The forceful finale begins with a manic theme which Bainton deftly develops along with that wonderful motif the orchestra introduced at the very beginning of the work. A vibrant virtuoso episode then ensues, followed by a gorgeous epilogue where the concerto's major themes are reprised. The work ends atypically in a state of peaceful resignation, and immediately demands to be heard again!
The fastidiousness and sensitivity with which pianist Margaret Fingerhut plays the concerto are exceptional. It couldn't have a greater champion, particularly with the outstanding support provided her by conductor Paul Daniel and the BBC Philharmonic. The performances of the other selections included here make a strong case for the music of this little known composer. By the way, flutist Richard Davis gets a special round of applause for his lovely solo work in the idyll movement of the second selection.
Like the majority of other recent Chandos recordings made at Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, this one is ideal from the soundstage and venue standpoint. The piano is captured with a bell-like delicacy that perfectly suits the music, but the overall orchestral sound is at times a bit blustery. While this may not rank with Chandos' finest sounding Studio 7s, it's such a significant disc of discovery that it belongs in every romantic music lover's collection along with that Hurlstone release on Lyrita that we recently told you about (see the newsletter of 15 April 2008).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080515)
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Coates, E.: Orch Wks (7); Orch Songs (10); Edgar-Wilson/Allen/Wilson/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Tunesmiths of British composer Eric Coates' (1886-1957) caliber appear only once in a lifetime, and the hours of listening enjoyment his creations have afforded audiences are inestimable. You'll find the selections on this new Dutton release, some of which are première recordings, will introduce you to a number of Coates rarities you've probably never heard before. Don't get the idea that these lesser known pieces are inferior music. On the contrary, everything here glows with that melodic radiance so typical of Coates, and proves he still remains the dean of British Light Music.
The first part of the concert is devoted to seven orchestral works, and opens with the Sound and Vision March, which is one of Coates' later works (1955). It shows that even in his old age he was still able to endow his creations with that high-stepping energetic sense of optimism found in his earlier compositions. Next, the first recording of the suite From the Countryside, which is a relatively early piece dating from 1915. It's a colorfully orchestrated rural triptych full of those lovely tunes and jaunty rhythms that would characterize his later efforts. It concludes with a tarantella-like selection that will have everyone cutting a rug.
Another lively march, Holborn (1950), which is a recording first, and the dance interlude Moresque (1921) follow. The latter is of Spanish/Moorish persuasion complete with castanets in its middle section. It was probably written in response to the popularity of such numbers in English music halls of the day. The Four Ways Suite (1928) is a tuneful boxing of the compass in four movements characterizing each of the cardinal points. "Northwards" would seem to be Scotland bound, while there's something Viennese about "Southwards." A kitsch Orientalism worthy of Albert Ketèlby pervades "Eastwards," and American dance music of the Roaring Twenties dominates "Westwards."
The orchestral part of the program concludes with a sinuously ursine waltz from the ever popular suite The Three Bears (1926), and another march, The Eighth Army (1942). The latter commemorates the Allies' victory at El Alamein in 1942, and ends the first half of the program in much the same way as it started.
But now for the pièces de résistance -- ten world première recordings of Coates' songs in the composer's original orchestrations. Granted some may deem these a bit sentimental, but romantics will find they produce more than just a tear.
The first group of six songs is sung here by a tenor, and begins with four that make up the cycle The Mill O' Dreams (1915, words by Nancy B. Marsland). They're absolutely magical with charming lyrics full of youthful naiveté and drop-dead gorgeous melodies. Song of Summer (1943, words by Lady Joan Vernay) is affectingly melancholy, while Your Name (1938) has lyrics by Christopher Hassall and may bring to mind some of the songs Hassall wrote with Ivor Novello (1893-1951) in the 1930s.
The concluding group of four songs is sung by a baritone, and begins with Green Hills of Somerset (1916) set to words by F.E. Weatherly, who also wrote the verses for Danny Boy (1913). It's a Coates' mini-masterpiece guaranteed to melt the iciest of hearts. The lovely I Heard You Singing (1923) has lyrics by Royden Barrie, who also collaborated with another distinguished English songwriter, Roger Quilter. There's an infectious folksy quality about The Fairy Tales of Ireland (1918, words by Edward Lockton), while the last number, Bird Songs at Eventide (1926, lyrics again by Royden Barrie) brings this exceptional release to a halcyon but untimely end, because you'll only wish there were more.
Tenor Richard Edgar-Williams is in fine voice, but his vibrato is at times more in keeping with a Wagnerian opera than these guileless songs of innocence. Baritone Sir Thomas Allen has a real feel for this music, delivering superb performances of everything he sings. Conductor John Wilson and the BBC Concert Orchestra play the orchestral selections to perfection and provide ideal support for the two soloists.
From the soundstage and venue standpoints, these recordings are very good. However, there's a shrillness about them that's atypical of what we've come to expect from Dutton. Not only that, but the miking of Edgar-Williams' voice is somewhat odd, because occasionally he almost sounds like he's singing through a megaphone à la Rudy Vallee. But don't let that stop you from getting this nostalgic treasure-trove of a disc. Just turn down the treble!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080514)
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Héritte-Viardot: Pno Qts (3); Viardot En [Ars Prod]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
On the heels of that delightful release featuring the chamber music of Mel Bonis (see the newsletter of 30 March 2008), here's more by another little known French woman composer. Louise Héritte-Viardot (1841-1918) was for the most part self-taught, which makes it all the more amazing that her three piano quartets on this disc are so accomplished. Apparently she was an outstanding pianist and during her early years in Paris hobnobbed with the likes of Berlioz, Saint-Saëns, Massenet, Franck and Lalo. The year 1876 saw the first performances of her music, which eventually included a number of orchestral as well as chamber works. The three quartets featured here are among the few scores of hers that have survived, and hearing them one can only regret the loss of so many of her others.
The Quartet in D minor dates from her years in Paris, where it was premièred and published in 1877-78. In four movements, the first one is characterized by a forceful opening theme and well thought out development reminiscent of Beethoven. The andante is a delicate melodic delight, while the scherzo consists of a bouncy tune worthy of Felix Mendelssohn that alternates with a slower, more pensive one. The finale is an energetic rondo with an appealing harmonic playfulness.
Around 1880 Héritte-Viardot began travelling extensively throughout Europe, and the Quartets in A and D major were probably written around 1883 during a stay in Germany. The one in A, subtitled "In Summer," is programmatic, with each of its four movements describing a rural summer scene. It may remind you of Benjamin Godard's Scènes Poétiques (see the newsletter of 30 April 2008). The first, entitled "Morning in the Forest," is a drop-dead gorgeous study in arboreal serenity that's right up there with some of Fauré's best chamber music. The next, "Flies and Butterflies," is a Puckish scherzo right out of Mendelssohn. The third section, "The Sweltering Heat," is built around a comely romantic melody, while the finale, "Evening Under the Oak," is an animated polka that ends this delightful work in boisterous peasant fashion.
Based on Spanish themes and rhythms, the Quartet in D major is appropriately known as the "Spanish Quartet." Oddly enough the first movement begins with a lively melody that calls to mind one of those festive Italian dance tunes Sir Arthur Sullivan would later came up with for The Gondoliers (1889). But there's no doubt about the Spanish origin of the dark-hued andante, which sounds like it could have originally been for the guitar. The third movement is a lovely serenade with a melody similar to one Moszkowski borrowed for his Spanish Dances. The whirling finale gives the performers a chance to strut their stuff, and concludes this colorful quartet in a fiery Latin manner.
The Viardot Ensemble makes a strong case for this rare repertoire by playing everything with great skill and sensitivity. In one respect this is a mixed blessing, because these magnificent performances will make you regret all the more that this is all that’s survived of this talented woman's chamber music.
While the recordings are quite good as far as the soundstage and venue are concerned, the individual instruments, particularly the piano, are at times a bit bright.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080513)
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Martinu: Vn & Orch Wks Cpte V3 (2 stes, Rhap-Conc); Matousek/Hogwood/Czech PO [Hyperion]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Christopher Hogwood and the Czech Philharmonic continue their survey of Bohuslav Martinu's (1890-1959) complete works for violin and orchestra with this third volume from Hyperion (see the newsletters of 30 October 2007 and 15 March 2008), which includes a work for another member of the violin family, the viola. The three selections here are two versions of the Suite Concertante for violin (1938-39 and 1943-44), which are significantly different, and the Rhapsody-Concerto for viola (1952).
Originally the Suite concertante was going to be a group of virtuoso dances for violin and orchestra based on Czech folk music. But when Marinu started composing it, he was emotionally consumed with an extramarital affair and had great difficulty completing the work. In the end, he trashed the three dances he had written and began anew, creating a suite in five-movements. Unfortunately the middle one, a scherzo, was subsequently lost, so all we have for this first recording of it are the four outer ones. The opening, entitled "Prelude," is a perky toccata followed by a "Meditation," which seems to reflect some of the angst Martinu must have been experiencing at the time. The "Intermezzo" would seem to be full of twittering birds, and the composer can't resist including references to a popular Czech folk song in the animated "Finale."
In the second version of the suite, Martinu has reworked the material for the "Prelude," and calls it "Toccata." The second movement, now entitled "Aria," is not as tortured as the "Meditation" in the previous version, but is that a partial reference to the Dies Irae we hear on the solo violin [track-6, beginning at 01:30]? The final two sections, "Scherzo" and "Rondo," are spirited, distant relatives of the "Intermezzo" and "Finale" from before. The former is chromatically mercurial, while the beginning of the latter bears a resemblance to that of Martinu's first violin concerto.
The Rhapsody-Concerto was written during Martinu's later years when he had evolved into an unabashed neo-romantic. It has since become one of the most popular viola concertos out there, and with just cause.
In two movements, the first opens with an extended orchestral introduction that sets the stage for some of the most sumptuous music the composer ever came up with. Marked moderato, it's full of all those wonderful harmonic progressions that make Martinu instantly recognizable. The final movement begins slowly with a couple of the composer's most memorable tunes and passionately swells to an overwhelming climax. The highly invigorating central episode that follows precludes the music becoming too cloying. Then the most beautiful of the thematic ideas returns to end this work on a heavenly note.
These outstanding performances prove that Bohuslav Matousek is just as much a master of the viola as the violin. His tone is magnificent on both instruments, and there is absolutely no hint of that queasy intonation which sometimes plagues violists. Conductor Christopher Hogwood and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra maintain the high standard of support they've provided on the two previous discs.
Although the recorded sound on the second volume (see the newsletter of 15 March 2008) in this series wasn't demonstration quality like that on the first (see the newsletter of 30 October 2007), it is once again here. Audiophiles take note!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080512)
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Popplewell: Org Concs 1 & 2, Elegy, Org Ste; Watts/Willcocks/Ulster O [Priory]
Organ concertos have always been few and far between, but here are a couple of new spectacular contributions to the genre by British composer Richard Popplewell (b. 1935). An outstanding organist himself, Popplewell studied at King's College, Cambridge with David Willcock, who conducts here. Popplewell then went on to teach Jane Watts, who has since become an internationally acclaimed organist, and is the soloist for this recording. The disc attests to the fact that Popplewell is also an accomplished composer with a real flair for writing big-boned, late romantic music. He knows just how to complement the sound of a large concert hall organ (like the one here) with that of a symphony orchestra.
The first concerto (no date given) begins with a festive thematic idea that's tossed back and forth between the organ and orchestra. A contrapuntal treatment of it follows and builds to a big tune climax that calls to mind the music of Malcolm Arnold. The opening of the lyrical slow movement could almost be out of J.S. Bach, but strange disembodied woodwind chords give it a contemporary feel. The scherzo-like finale starts off with a rhythmically squirrelish theme quite similar to the subject of the fugue in the last movement of Sir William Walton's second symphony. Fleeting contrapuntal textures soon begin to appear, and are interrupted by some virtuoso displays of pedal technique that alternate with more subdued lyrical episodes. One of the latter includes a lovely passage for the solo violin. The work ends suddenly with thunderous runs on the organ and explosive chorded outbursts from the orchestra.
We're told in the album notes that the opening of the second concerto (no date given) is based on that of the Rachmaninov second piano concerto. But some may find it sounds more like a veiled reference to the old Lutheran chorale hymn tune for Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott. Be that as it may, there's a sincerity and straightforwardness about the five-note, sequentially rising motif that soon appears, which calls to mind the music of Elgar. It forms the basis for the entire first movement, which includes an extended cadenza for the organ before ending with a grandiose restatement of that five-note figure.
The scherzo and lento that follow find the organ accompanied solely by winds and strings respectively. The former is colorfully mercurial, while the latter is languishingly meditative with a main motif that hints at the Dies Irae. The tongue-in-cheek finale is a theme and variations based on an English folk song, which sounds a bit like the tune for the old nursery rhyme The Farmer in the Dell. It begins with the rat-a-tat-tat of a snare drum, followed by the theme and several very clever variations. One of these is based on Caribbean rhythms, while another has some trumpet-like blasts from the organ that'll knock you out of your seat. The triumphant final coda for full organ and orchestra will part you from your socks.
The program is filled out with two solo organ works: an elegy (1980) and a miniature suite for organ (1974). The former is a moving memorial to the memory of another great English organist-composer, Harold Darke (1888-1976), whom Popplewell succeeded as Director of Music at one of the most prestigious organ establishments in England, St. Michael's Cornhill.
In three parts, the suite begins with a delightful march that's quite militaire, and calls for some very fancy footwork. A dreamy intermezzo is next, and then the work concludes with a cerebral fugue. This gives the composer a chance to show off his considerable contrapuntal abilities, and may remind you of Marcel Dupré's early fugues for organ.
As always, organist Jane Watts tickles the ivories and plays footsie with the pedals to perfection. Listening to her, one gets the feeling she never hit a wrong note in her life! Not only that, but her sense of registration and dynamics is as unfailing as her ability to become one with whatever music is in front of her.
The soundstage projected by this disc is very good, with the organ captured to perfection. But for some reason the orchestral sound is a bit harsh in louder passages. That aside, this release makes for a most enjoyable listening experience.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080511)
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American Vn & Pno Wks (Adams, Harrison, Higdon, Ruggles); Koh/Uchida [Cedille]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A most imaginative program of contemporary American music for violin and piano in demonstration quality sound characterize this recent release from Cedille. The old expression "variety is the spice of life" certainly applies here where the differing musical styles and moods of the four rather programmatic works on this disc make for some memorable listening.
String Poetic was written in 2006 by one of America's most gifted woman composers, Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962, see the newsletter of 16 January 2007) to show off the considerable talents of the violin soloist here, Jennifer Koh. Higdon compares this five-movement suite to a small story book. It begins with a section entitled "Jagged Climb," which may strike any entomologists in the audience as a musical representation of an enraged insect. Here, as well as in the other odd-numbered movements, the piano occasionally takes on a captivating, muffled percussiveness created by placing external dampers on some of the strings. The next two sections, "Nocturne" and "Blue Hills of Mist," are dark and pensive, with the latter very much the center of gravity for this work. The fourth movement, "Maze Mechanical," is based on minimalist principles, while the concluding one, "Climb Jagged," sees the return of that insect.
The music of Carl Ruggles (1876-1971) is rarely heard today because very little of it was published due to his preoccupation with constantly revising his own works. At the time of his death, Mood (1918) only existed in sketch form, and what we have here is a reconstruction done by one of his colleagues. Lasting only about five minutes, it's a discordant, but rather dreamy miniature with dodecaphonic overtones and not a wasted note. The interplay it generates between the two soloists is fascinating.
The Grand Duo (1988) by Lou Harrison (1917-2003) that follows is the highpoint of this disc. In essence, it's a suite consisting of five dances, four of which have actually been choreographed. The outer sections of the opening prelude are impressionistically mysterious and bracket a central recitative-like passage for the violin. The next dance, entitled "Stampede," has that feeling of gamelan incessancy that pervades much of Harrison's music. Those machine gun octave runs on the piano are done using an octave bar. "A Round" and "Air" are restrained meditations with Eastern colorations, and show the composer's consummate skill in spinning out an extended melodic line. The final "Polka" is a thrilling exercise in virtuosity where the pianist must once again resort to that octave bar.
John Adams (b. 1946) is represented with his three-movement Road Movies (1995). While he lives up to his reputation as a minimalist in the outer movements, the highly melodic central one is very much in keeping with Adams' professed admiration for Lou Harrison. Adams describes this piece as "travel music," and the outside sections come off sounding a bit like Steve Reich's Different Trains minus the tape track. The meditative central one features a lovely dialogue between the two soloists.
The critical accolades given violinist Jennifer Koh and pianist Reiko Uchida are too numerous to mention. Suffice to say they certainly live up to them here with this fascinating program of little known American chamber music. This is definitely a concert you'll not soon forget!
Done in an outstanding venue (The American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City), the sonics are exceptional with an ideally proportioned soundstage. Judith Sherman, who produced and recorded this recital, is to be commended for capturing some of the most convincing violin and piano sound you could ever hope to hear. Koh's violin is silky smooth, while Uchida's piano is completely natural-sounding across its entire range with no hint of any “digital nasties.” Audiophiles auditioning new components would be well advised to take this disc along with them to the showroom.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080510)
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