CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
24 JULY 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 V3 (incl Carols Ste 2); Soloists/Slatkin/BBCCon O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The Leroy Anderson (1908-1975) Centennial Celebration continues with this third installment from Naxos in their ongoing survey of his complete orchestral music (see the newsletters of 15 February 2008 and 30 May 2008). It features four world première recordings, ten Anderson classics and another four selections that will be new to most. A number of these pieces require extra-orchestral effects like those you'd expect from a Hollywood Foley artist. That's not to say things get out of hand because conductor Leonard Slatkin keeps a tight rein on his percussion people, and any post production SFX additions seem to have been kept to a minimum.
The disc begins with three recording debuts, Harvard Sketches (1939), Melody on Two Notes (1966) and Mother's Whistler (1940). The first will bring back fond memories to all Harvard graduates (Anderson was one – B.A., Magna cum laude in 1929) of those sinister Russian bells in the Lowell House tower, as well as many incidents of freshman foolishness in Harvard Square. Then there's a humorous depiction of the Widener reading room complete with distracting Ivesian disembodied spirits worthy of the library sequence in the film Ghostbusters (1984). The closing "Class Day Confetti Battle" is an in-your-face frolic worthy of all those zany stories that appear in The Harvard Lampoon magazine.
Melody... is elegant for its thematic simplicity and harmonic sophistication. The latter testifies to the fact that Anderson learned his lessons well from then Harvard professors Walter Piston and Georges Enescu. The title Mother's Whistler would seem to be a play on words associated with the famous portrait James McNeil Whistler (1834-1903) did of his mother. Maybe Leroy's mom owned a Whistler! In any case the music is as irreverent as the title with a whistling melody that's interrupted by a couple of canine related SFXs. It brings to mind that old familiar chestnut The Whistler and His Dog by American bandleader-composer Arthur Pryor (1870-1942).
The next four pieces, The Penny Whistle Song, The Phantom Regiment, Plink, Plank, Plunk! and Promenade, date from 1951 and have all since become pops standards. Not surprisingly, flutes dominate the happy-go-lucky penny number. Do you suppose the composer had seen Gold Diggers of 1933 (see The Busby Berkeley Album write-up below), and the regiment pictured in that movie’s "Remember My Forgotten Man" number was an inspiration for Anderson’s? Plink... is enhanced with some novel percussive effects, and Promenade is a brisk stroll in the park.
Three dance-oriented selections that have become American light music classics are next. Sandpaper Ballet (1954) features a virtuoso "abrasavist" playing papers of varying grits. The brilliantly orchestrated Saraband (1948) harkens back to baroque times, while Latin American dance rhythms dominate the suave Serenata (1947).
The orchestra’s percussionists become Foley artists in Leroy's take on Old MacDonald Had a Farm (1947), which Boston Pops audiences always loved. Leopold Mozart would have turned green with envy over this Yankee toy cassation (see the newsletter of 15 June 2008).
Three clever Anderson arrangements are also included. The composer's reworking of "Seventy-Six Trombones" from Meredith Willson's (1902-1984) The Music Man (1958) is Americana of the highest order with some wonderful embellishments courtesy of John Philip Sousa and some others whom you can name. There's a dignity worthy of Giovanni Gabrieli about the suite of carols for brass choir (1955) that makes it even more impressive than the one for string orchestra on the previous volume (see the newsletters of 30 May 2008). Leroy's boisterous rendition of "Wintergreen for President" from George and Ira Gershwins' Of Thee I Sing (1931) is another recording first. It contains references to other popular American tunes, including "I've Been Working on the Railroad," which appears in a couple of Anderson's works. Maybe he had a preoccupation with it like Charles Ives did for "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean."
Four all time Anderson favorites close out this CD. Sleigh Ride (1948) with its jingle bells, equine SFXs and whip snaps will most likely remain Leroy’s most popular creation. Let's face it, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it! As performed here, The Typewriter (1949) features a QUERTY virtuoso (actually one of the orchestra’s percussionists) who must be capable of at least a hundred words a minute. The Trumpeter's Lullaby (1949) provides a pleasant respite from that frenetic keyboard number, and then this charming disc ends all too soon with Anderson's totally whacked-out timepiece The Syncopated Clock (1945). What a marvelous musical imagination and sense of humor he had!
As with the first two volumes conductor Slatkin and the BBC Concert Orchestra prove themselves worthy successors to Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, who originally encouraged and premièred many Anderson pieces. Kudos should also go to percussionist Alasdair Malloy and trumpeter Catherine Moore for their outstanding performances in the two penultimate selections.
Like volume two, you'll find the overall sonics are excellent with the soundstage more ideally proportioned than on the first disc. A bit of digital graininess still persists in a couple of massed string passages, but not to a degree which would rule this out of the audiophile demonstration category. Bring on volume four, Naxos!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080724)
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Bowen, Y.: Va & Pno Wks Cpte (2 fants, rhap, 2 sons, etc); Power et al/Crawford-Phillips [Hyperion]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
On the heels of a recent release featuring the viola music of English composer Benjamin Dale (see the newsletter of 30 May 2008) here's another with the complete works for viola and piano by his friend York Bowen (1884-1961). Like the selections on the Dale disc, most of the ones here were written at the urging of the great British violist Lionel Tertis, whom Bowen frequently accompanied on the piano. Listening to this album it's difficult to understand why Bowen's music fell from grace, but with all the recent CDs devoted to him (see the newsletters of 30 September 2006 and 8 December 2007), it's obvious his time has finally come! Incidentally, there are several recording premières (*) here.
The first CD in this two disc set begins with Bowen's first sonata for viola and piano (1905). A highly accomplished work in three movements, it's hard to believe it was a student piece. But what's even more surprising is the viola part, which is rather matter-of-fact as opposed to the romanticized writing usually associated with this instrument. This is particularly true of the dynamic outer movements, which are definitely not for beginners. It’s only in the central cantabile, where there’s a lovely melody worthy of Dvorák, that things warm up.
The romance that follows was originally for violin and piano (1900), but then arranged for viola (*) in 1904 most likely at the request of Tertis. It's a lovely romantic outpouring where you'll find the viola much more in character.
The Fantasia for Four Violas (1907), like Dale's Introduction and Andante for Six Violas (1911), was written for Tertis and his students to perform. With a rather anguished opening and closing, it has a scherzo-like central section, which must have given his pupils a chance to strut their stuff. By the way, the second viola part was played by a guy named Eric Coates (see the newsletter of 15 May 20080)!
A real curiosity comes next in the form of the first movement from Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (No. 14, 1801) with a viola obbligato added by Bowen (*). This was one of his composition exercises for Professor Frederick Corder (1852-1932) at the Royal Academy of Music, and the presence of the viola turns the full moon of the original into a penumbral eclipse.
The final selection on this disc is the Phantasy for Viola and Piano (1918). Written for Tertis, it's not surprising that this thirteen-minute one-movement work is a showpiece for viola virtuosos. Fiendishly difficult passages alternate with elegantly simple ones in one of Bowen's finest chamber music creations.
The second sonata (1906) is the lead-off selection on the companion CD. There's melodic simplicity about the first of its three movements that gives it the immediate appeal of salon music. The subdued middle one emphasizes the dark autumnal quality the viola can take on, while the finale is a fun-filled, cheeky romp.
Four short, occasional pieces for viola and piano follow. Originally for cello and piano, Bowen arranged his Romance (1908*) and Allegro de concert (1906*) for viola soon after he wrote them. The former is a passionate, rising-falling work that's quite moving, while the latter contrasts assertive with melancholic thematic ideas to great effect. The other two selections are both called Melody and were composed between 1917 and 1918. In Lawrence Power's hands, both are gorgeous showpieces for that amorously burnished tone the viola inherited from it's d'amore predecessor.
The second disc closes with a very late work, Rhapsody (1955), which lasts about thirteen minutes. In three skillfully linked arches, the harsh, no-nonsense beginning and ending surround a lovely rhapsodic episode highlighting the viola's rapturous lower register. Passages where the soloist can show off his technical abilities abound, bringing this tour de force album to a fiery conclusion.
As he did with the Bowen, Forsythe, Rubbra and Walton viola concertos (Hyperion 67546 and 67587), Lawrence Power proves himself a worthy twenty-first century successor to Lionel Tertis. In a word, his playing is magnificent, and there's absolutely no sign of that intonational queasiness which sometimes plagues lesser violists. Simon Crawford-Phillips is also to be commended for his superlative keyboard support. And let's not forget violists Philip Dukes, James Boyd and Scott Dickinson, who demonstrate their considerable talents alongside Power in the Fantasia.
The recorded sound is demonstration quality with a soundstage perfectly proportioned for chamber music of this type. The instrumental timbre and balance between the soloists is completely natural, making this album something to bring along the next time you go shopping for sound equipment.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080723)
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Pabst, Rimsky-Korsakov, Scriabin: Pno Concs; Marshev/Ziva/SJut SO [Danacord]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The concerto curiosities on this disc are the only ones for piano that each of these three Russian composers ever wrote. While Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) are known to everyone, Pavel (Paul) Pabst (1854-1897) will be new to most. Unlike Rimsky, Pabst and Scriabin were piano virtuosos of considerable note, so it's not surprising that their concertos are twice as long, and much more demanding than Rimsky's. Pabst was highly regarded by the likes of Nicholas Rubinstein, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsy, Nicolai Medtner and Sergei Rachmaninov, all of whom were shocked and deeply grieved when he died suddenly at forty-three.
Pabst studied in Vienna and then with Franz Liszt in Weimar, Germany, so it's not surprising that his concerto (1882) has strong Central European associations. In three movements, the opening allegro begins with a triumphant melody in the orchestra followed by some keyboard pyrotechnics. It contains several wonderful themes where the influences of Schumann, Chopin and Liszt are prevalent. The movement ends with a killer cadenza and an expansive coda of most joyful countenance. The andante is romantically pensive with hints of Tchaikovsky, and builds to a stately climax only to end quietly as it began. The finale is a rondo where the recurring motif sounds like it's based on some Russian folk dance. A number of other delightful ideas are interwoven with it, and the concerto concludes with some fancy finger work à la Liszt followed by a victorious restatement of the dance tune. Romantics will consider this work a real find.
The fact that it's in one movement and only lasts about fifteen minutes may explain why Rimsky's concerto (1882-83) has never become more popular. But the fact remains it's well-crafted and brilliantly orchestrated with some very distinguished piano writing. In four deftly connected sections, it begins with the orchestra stating the main theme, which is a folk song taken from a collection Mily Balakirev made and published in 1866. The piano soon enters embellishing the melody and the tempo accelerates. The soloist then hammers out a forceful restatement of the first part of the folk tune [track-4, beginning at 03:02], which comes off sounding amazingly like some of the concluding passages in Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini written fifty years later.
The second and third parts of Rimsky's concerto are ingenious variations of the main theme that take on the character of a scherzo and a gorgeous andante respectively. Trumpet calls introduce the final allegro, which is based on another highly inventive variation of the opening tune. A rhapsodic cadenza for the piano leads to a joyfully frenzied coda, which ends the work in grand fashion. While it may be one of the shortest romantic concertos ever written, there's not a wasted note and it manages to say more than many twice its length.
Why Scriabin's concerto (1896) is not done more often remains a mystery, because it's a masterpiece of understatement and Slavic sensitivity. The piano and orchestra remain pretty much equal partners throughout the entire work, and there isn't even an extended cadenza for the soloist. In three movements, there's a yearning quality about the opening one which can't help but move the listener. Attractive, subtle melodies dominate, and the turgidity that sometimes characterizes this composer's music is not to be found here. The slow movement is a theme and variations whose subject is, for these ears, one of the most gorgeous romantic melodies ever written! It's the essence of simplicity and apparently something Scriabin came up with as a youngster. That combined with some of the most circumspect variations imaginable make this an andante not to be forgotten.
The finale does not disappoint as the piano introduces a jaunty theme, which rockets skywards and bursts into a shower of sparks. A relaxed comely counter melody follows and is developed along with the former motif. The music ebbs and flows with a couple of powerful climaxes based on each of the previous themes. But the composer saves the best for last as he returns to the concerto's home key of F sharp, and ends in the major with a glowing melodic synthesis of what's come before.
We have Russian pianist Oleg Marshev to thank for unearthing many unknown, but worthy piano works like the ones on this disc. In fact, he deserves to be much better known on the basis of his highly imaginative Danacord releases alone. He's a highly gifted artist, who subordinates his considerable technical abilities to a deeply felt sensitivity for whatever he plays. Consequently, the stirring performances he delivers here sweep away what little competition there is for any of this music. High marks must also go to conductor Vladimir Ziva and the South Jutland Symphony Orchestra for their outstanding support.
The Danes are renowned for their fine microphones and speaker systems, so it's not surprising that their recordings are more often than not quite exceptional. That's certainly the case here where this expansive romantic music is complimented by a wide, perfectly focused soundstage. The balance between the piano and orchestra is excellent, and both sound completely natural with no sign of any nasty digital artifacts. By the way, if you don't already have it, make sure you check out an equally spectacular Danacord release (597) with Marshev playing three obscure, but totally captivating Danish romantic piano concertos.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080722)
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Phillips, M.F.: Pno Concs 1 & 2; (w Hely-Hutchinson); Norris/Sutherland/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Graduates from two of Britain's most prestigious musical institutions are represented on this disc. Montague Fawcett Phillips (1885-1969) was a fellow student with Benjamin Dale and York Bowen at the Royal Academy of Music (see the recommendation above), while Victor Hely-Hutchinson (1902-1947), who was born in South Africa, studied at the Royal College of Music. You'll find the Phillips piano concertos robust romantic works that take their cue from those of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. On the other hand, the short rhapsody for piano and orchestra by Hely-Hutchinson is jazz influenced, and belongs to the world of British light music.
Phillips wrote his first concerto (1907) in response to a commission from a wealthy lady patron of the arts so he could get money to buy himself a grand piano. This recording represents the first performance of it in almost a hundred years, and hearing it one can only wonder why. Thank you Dutton! In three movements, the opening one is longer than the other two combined, and begins in grand fashion with a noble theme stated by the orchestra. That’s soon picked up by the piano, which together with the orchestra transform it into a lovely lyrical episode à la Tchaikovsky. This serves as an introduction to a fiendishly difficult extended cadenza for the soloist. An exciting dialogue between the piano and orchestra with big tunes flying left and right follows, and the movement ends in a frenzied state, creating great expectations for what's about to come.
The andante is absolutely gorgeous with melodic ideas of the highest order and some lovely solo piano work. The spirit of Rachmaninov lies just below the surface of the finale where once again Phillips proves himself an exceptional tunesmith. A flurry of notes on the piano announces the final triumphant coda, which ends this piece in a state of elated excitement.
The second concerto (1919) is much more sophisticated than its predecessor, and a romantic British masterpiece in this genre. Again in three movements, the opening one is in several arches of contrasting mood. It begins with what might best be described as a forceful, ascending-staircase theme which is subjected to some interesting contortions. This is followed by a romantically rhapsodic passage and then an agitated episode that's a combination of Bax and Rachmaninov. But calm finally prevails in the form of an attractive, relaxed melody that suddenly transforms into a scurrying theme, which ends the movement with a smile.
Another stunning andante follows and opens with a beautiful, introductory solo passage for the piano. A chirpy motif then appears in the woodwinds followed by an arresting hunting call on the horns. The latter attains big tune status with the piano and full orchestra only to fade into a reprise of what we heard at the very beginning of this movement. The piano next introduces a most attractive closing idea that's taken up by the orchestra, ending things on a highly romantic note. The finale begins with a wonderfully audacious theme on the piano which soon gives way to a stately, English sounding melody played by the orchestra. These two ideas comingle in an inventive free-for-all with the latter theme finally triumphing, providing this singular concerto with an Elgarian-inspired conclusion.
The Hely-Hutchinson rhapsody filling out the disc is entitled The Young Idea (1928). It's an infectious ramble, as Percy Grainger (1882-1961) would have called it, which Hely said was written as an essay in jazz. With a delightfully syncopated main theme, it owes a great debt to British pianist-composer Billy Mayerl (1902-1959). And like his music, it’s bound to please, bringing this revelatory release to a joyful conclusion.
You may remember pianist David Owen Norris from his enterprising recording of an unfinished Elgar piano concerto as realized by Robert Walker. Well, this disc finds him in an equally adventurous frame of mind. His feel for these colorful scores is exceptional, and the support provided by conductor Gavin Sutherland and the BBC Concert Orchestra couldn't be more enthusiastic. If you like this disc, there are another two Dutton releases (7140 and 7158) with Sutherland conducting more of Phillips' music.
The recording is excellent from the soundstage standpoint, and the balance between the soloist and orchestra is right on. However, those with systems favoring the upper midrange may experience some hot-spots in forte passages and a bit of grain in the piano sound. But those reservations pale in comparison to the listening enjoyment this rare and interesting repertoire should bring.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080721)
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Villa-Lobos: Choros Cpte V2 [6, 8 & 9 (orch); 1 (gtr); 4 (brass qt)]; Soloists/Neschling/SãoPau SO [BIS]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) had an aversion to established classical music forms as evidenced by the loosey-goosey structure of his concertos and symphonies. So he invented the Choros (He wrote fifteen of them), which is a unique Villa-Lobos creation roughly equivalent to a free-form tone poem. A fascinating combination of Brazilian aboriginal and folk-derived elements as well as Western European musical influences, each of them is an entity unto itself and among the composer's most original works. Incidentally, the ones on this release are not presented in chronological order, and are discussed below as they appear on the CD.
Lasting almost half an hour, the opening Choros No. 6 (1926) is for orchestra and includes an array of colorful Brazilian percussion instruments (see the informative album notes for details). In several connected sections, it’s a kind of symphonic travelogue through the Brazilian hinterlands. Highlights include a mysterious flute-infested opening, a bustling village scene, and some adventurous, expeditionary music. The latter [track-1, beginning at 07:36] is oddly reminiscent of "On the Trail" from Ferde Grofé's (1892-1972) Grand Canyon Suite (see the newsletter of 20 November 2006) written five years later. Towards the end, there's a percussive outburst introducing a pastoral, folksy sequence, which bursts into flames, concluding this piece in what sounds like a forest blaze.
The brief five-minute Choros No. 1 (1920) is for solo guitar and intended as a tribute to another great Brazilian composer, Ernesto Nazareth (1863-1934). It has all the charm of the latter's wonderfully atmospheric piano pieces, and repetends that may remind you of Anton Karas' (1906-1985) Third Man Theme (1949).
Choros No. 8 (1925-27) is for a huge orchestra augmented with two pianos and a monster percussion section featuring more of those Brazilian instruments. Lasting about twenty minutes, this is some of the most progressive Villa-Lobos you'll ever hear. As a matter of fact, in his review of it following the 1927 Paris première, composer-critic Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) described it as exotically savage. It's a series of thematically diverse, brilliantly orchestrated episodes that are strung together, and come off sounding a bit like a short ballet. Stylistically speaking, it looks back to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (1913), Le Boeuf sur le toit (1920) by Darius Milhaud, who as it turns out spent a couple of years in Brazil (1917-19), and even Mussorgsky's Night on the Bare Mountain (1867). Many may find its more complex passages are reminiscent of Charles Ives' music (see the newsletter of 3 July 2008). But the overall concept is solely Villa-Lobos and anticipates what would come from Edgar Varèse (1883-1965), Georges Antheil (1900-1959), John Antill (1904-1986) and Alberto Ginastera (1916-1983).
Another five minute Choros (No. 6, 1926) follows. Scored for three horns and bass trombone, it opens in an enigmatically detached manner with a variety of fragmentary motifs that are at times quite sinister. The mood suddenly shifts towards the end as a jovial melody, which sounds folk derived, bursts on the scene, providing this Choros with a cheerful ending.
The concluding Choros No. 9 (1929) is similar in length and scoring to the sixth, but like the eighth, borders on the balletic. There are a number of surprising references to other well-known works, including Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade (1888, see the newsletter of 30 September 2006) [track-5, beginning at 01:12] and Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) [track-5, beginning at 04:20]. Magnificently orchestrated with a rhythmic disparity worthy of Stravinsky's ballets, it's lethargic one minute and frenetic the next. Do you suppose the whistle sounds towards the end [track-5, beginning at 18:08] have something to do with a Brazilian traffic cop? It concludes with a catchy Latin American dance tune that gradually subsides into a lovely passage for winds followed by a thunderous ending with the full orchestra.
Conductor John Neschling and the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra certainly love this music and deliver thrilling performances of the three orchestral works. Guitarist Fabio Zanon shines in the first Choros, and pianists Linda Bustani and Ilan Rechtman make brief, but significant contributions to the eighth. A round of applause must also go to horn players Dante Yenque, Ozéas Arantes and Samuel Hamzem along with trombonist Darrin Coleman Milling for their striking interpretation of the fourth Choros. Incidentally, those who don't already have it might want to get BIS's first volume (1440) in this continuing survey of these works (eight to go).
Talk about audiophile demonstration discs, this certainly qualifies as one. The orchestral sound is absolutely natural with sweet highs and profound lows over an amazingly wide dynamic range thanks to all that percussion. Also the solo guitar and brass quartet are captured to perfection. These recordings were made in the Sala São Paulo, which is an ideal venue for this complex music, and the BIS engineers obviously came up with a microphone set-up that produces a totally convincing soundstage.
In closing, here's a request for BIS. How about recording Neschling and his outstanding São Paulo Symphony Orchestra doing the music of another Brazilian composer, Hekel Tavares (1896-1969)? Deserving much wider attention, his Concerto in Brazilian Forms for Piano and Orchestra is a spectacular piece that many would agree qualify him as the South American Rachmaninov. And with an opus number of 105, there must be lots of other Tavares goodies just waiting to be discovered!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080720)
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Reinecke: Wind Oct & Sxt, From the Cradle… (arr Köhler for fl & pno); Members Bos SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Continuing their invaluable series of rereleases featuring noteworthy recordings that were originally on other labels and have long since disappeared, Naxos now gives us some exceptional music by Carl Reinecke (1824-1910). Not available since the late 1990s, his wind octet and sextet included on this disc are romantic anomalies because composers of that period were preoccupied with writing chamber music that included strings. As far as wind works for small ensembles go, these selections are exceptional for the rich sonorities Reinecke manages to conjure up. His ability to do so is undoubtedly explained by the fact that in addition to being a composer he was an outstanding conductor and teacher with a complete understanding of all wind instruments.
In four movements, the wind octet (1892) is scored for flute, oboe and pairs of clarinets, horns and bassoons. The doubling of the latter adds a tonal depth apparent from the very outset of the piece. The opening allegro is a perfect example of sonata form with inspired thematic material that gives it great appeal. In the following scherzo a light, bubbly motif alternates with a more dignified melody. The last two movements, an adagio and allegro, are diametrically opposed. The former is a lazy river of satiny sound, while the latter is a rustic caper that ends this Aeolian delight on a wind-swept note.
The sextet (1905) is in only three movements, and scored for flute, oboe, clarinet, two horns and bassoon. The additional horn insures this piece doesn't come off sounding like some of those squeaky wind quintets. It opens with a theme whose first ten notes comprise a falling motif, which becomes the unifying idea behind this masterfully constructed movement. In the adagio, relaxed pastoral opening and closing sections surround a perky central episode, which could almost be out of some dietetic Bruckner scherzo. The balletic finale begins with a theme strangely reminiscent of the "Dance of the Cygnets" from the first act of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (1877). Then there's a lovely central waltz section and the sextet concludes with a merry coda.
The disc is filled out with eight of Reinecke's sixteen piano pieces entitled From the Cradle to the Grave (1888) as arranged for flute and piano by flutist-composer Ernesto Köhler (1849-1907). Each bears a title (see the album notes for details), and Reinecke's indebtedness to Robert Schumann (1810-1856) is pretty obvious, particularly in the rather angular melodies that characterize these delicate miniatures. Highlights include a spirited "Play and Dance" number, tender "O Beautiful May Night" and charming "Birthday March." The last selection, "Sunset," references the seventeenth century tune "Grandfather's Dance" [track-12, beginning at 01:29], which Schumann quotes in the finale of Carnaval (1833-35). Can you name another composer who also used it and where? [see answer].
All of the artists here are members of the Boston Symphony and, while not principal players, their beautifully crafted, sensitive performances of this music certainly reflect very highly on that illustrious orchestra. Flutist Fenwick Smith and pianist Hugh Hinton get a standing ovation for their outstanding "cradle-songs."
The sonics are uniformly audiophile quality even though all of these selections were recorded in different venues. In each case the soundstage is perfectly suited to the piece in question, and the instrumental timbre is completely natural. Play this at night with the lights out and you'll swear the performers are right in front of you. By the way, if you like this music, make sure you investigate Reinecke's superb concertos (see the newsletter of 31 August 2006 and 14 May 2007).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y080719)
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Busby Berkeley Alb (Warren & Dubin, 10 Songs, 1933-35); Soloists/McGlinn/Lon SinftaC&O [ArkivCD]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Back in the days of the Great Depression (1930s), one of the best escapes from all your financial woes, was to go to one of those zany, throw-your-cares-away Hollywood musicals. Nobody made better ones than those directed by the inimitable Busby Berkeley for Warner Brothers, and the music for ten of his greatest song and dance sequences from three of his films is featured on this CD. Composed by the great Harry Warren (1893-1981) with words by Al Dubin (1891-1945), these upbeat numbers will soon make you forget today's skyrocketing gas prices, massive mortgage foreclosures and all those bears now on the prowl in Wall Street. Originally released by EMI almost fifteen years ago, and having long since disappeared from record stores, we have ArkivMusic to thank for resurrecting this wonderful, feel-good disc. By the way, all the orchestrations used here are the original ones done by Ray Heindorf for the films.
There are three selections from Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933) beginning with an uncut (it's interrupted in the movie) rendition of "We're In the Money" [track-1]. And when you hear it, you'll think you're in the money too! Judy Blazer sings the lead and even sounds a bit like Ginger Rogers, who was the on-screen, coin-bedecked soloist. In camp '30s fashion, one of the verses is even in Pig Latin. "Pettin' in the Park" [track-7], sung in the film by Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler (married to Al Jolson at the time), conveys the innocence that typified the era. "Remember My Forgotten Man" [track-8] was a spectacular number with some rather serious words and music that many may find resonate with today’s newspaper stories about soldiers returning from Iraq (see the Leroy Anderson write-up above).
42nd Street (1933) is represented by four selections, the first being the title song [track-2]. This is a Warren-Dubin classic that once again featured Powell and Keeler in one of Berkeley's most creative numbers. A smattering of tap dancing sounds is added to this recording giving it a bit more authenticity. Music from the '30s doesn't get any more endearing than "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" [track-3]. The version done here even includes the line “shotgun at his b...tummy,” which mimics an edit in the film where the censors insisted the word "belly" be changed to "tummy." Moving right along, the lyrics for the song "Young and Healthy" [track-4) may be rather mundane, but the music is certainly inspired. On the other hand, the words for "You're Getting To Be a Habit with Me" are classics, and the melody is one of Warren's best.
An extended eleven-minute excerpt from Dames (1934) [track-9] begins with a delightful bit of that cleverly written, hyper showbiz banter which characterized these dizzy productions. Busby's fascination with beautiful women -- both on and off the sound stage -- is epitomized by this number. It's a romantic mini-ballet where it's easy to imagine those classic Berkeley overhead shots revealing a kaleidoscope of gorgeous faces and figures set to some of the best movie music to come out of the '30s. There's a melodic fragment here [track-9, beginning at 04:34] that may have been in David Rose's (1910-1990) subconscious when he wrote Holiday for Strings (1943).
From Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935), there's "I'm Going Shopping with You" [track-6] and "Lullaby of Broadway" [track-10]. While the former sports some clever lyrics, which contain more Pig Latin, the latter is one of the most sophisticated and distinguished musical numbers ever made for the silver screen. Lasting almost fifteen minutes, it's a combination symphonic poem and balletic happening that finds Harry Warren at his most inspired. As performed here, you'll find it a very impressive piece of theater even without the benefit of images, and a fitting conclusion to this outstanding album.
Anyone who's seen the original films will have to agree that conductor John McGlinn has done a phenomenal job in accurately recreating these musical extravaganzas. Fabulous performances from a large cast of talented soloists along with the London Sinfonietta Chorus and Orchestra assure that the spirit of the '30s is very much alive and well on this disc.
As redone by Arkiv, this album is a perfect clone of what you would have gotten from EMI fifteen years ago. That includes the sound, which is quite good and infinitely superior to that on the films, even if it is a bit on the bright side. And the outstanding album booklet as well as the back panel, which are identical to those that came with the original CD. Incidentally, this is only one of over five thousand invaluable reissues from ArkivMusic worth investigating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P080718)
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