CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
11 MAY 2009
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.
Berg, N.: Sym 1 "Alles endet was entstehet", Sym 2 "Aristiderna"; Rasilainen/RheinPfSt P [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Following their invaluable revival of Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg's (1887-1974) symphonic music (see the newsletters of 30 March 2006, 18 April 2006 and 20 June 2007), CPO now turns their attention to that of his compatriot Natanael Berg (1879-1957). Although he had always wanted to become a composer, in order to support himself Berg began his career as a military horse doctor. It was not until he was in his thirties that he could seriously concentrate on composing. A great admirer of Richard Wagner and Strauss (see the newsletter of 11 July 2007), he was for the most part interested in writing large-scale works, eventually completing three ballets, six operas and five symphonies. This release includes two of the latter.
The first symphony (1912) is entitled "Alles endet was entstehet" ("All that is created must end"), which is a quote from a sonnet by Michelangelo ("Chiunche nasce a morte arriva"). This poem was also the subject matter for the second of Hugo Wolf's Three Songs after Michelangelo written fifteen year earlier. In four movements, it describes differing aspects of human existence, and its informality makes it more of a tone poem than a symphony. Youthful optimism and joy in the form of some inspired melodic material characterize the opening. The following andante might well be a depiction of amorous despondency with only brief glimmers of hope midway through. This is offset by a folksy dance-like presto, probably representing the more fun-filled moments in life. The lyrically lush beginning of the finale creates a feeling of well-being that one could associate with the golden years. But things suddenly turn catastrophic! It was at this point that Berg heard about the sinking of the Titanic (14 April 1912), and decided to conclude the symphony with a funeral march honoring the 1,516 victims of that disaster. You'll find the contrast of moods in this early symphonic effort make for some delightful listening.
Natanael's second effort in this genre was written four years later (1916), and has the subtitle "Arstiderna" ("The Seasons"). Unlike Vivaldi and Chin (b. 1957, see the newsletter of 1 March 2007), whose Seasons begin with "Summer," or that of Glazunov, which starts in "Winter," Berg follows Franz Joseph Haydn's example and opens with "Spring." Here a delightful waltz with rhythmically colorful floral flourishes is followed by a lovely vernal melody that segues right into "Summer." A resplendent brass theme indicative of intense sunlight, and woodwind motifs that might be soothing breezes paint a picture of an ideal summer day in the country.
But fleecy nimbus clouds are building, giving birth to a sudden thunderstorm and the onset of "Autumn." The tempest abates as a cool, rather barren motif played by the winds introduces "Winter." Here images of snow flurries and icicles are conjured up by the celesta and other instruments in their upper registers. Then all ends quietly, revealing what might be a frozen landscape illuminated by the full moon. While this may not be the most sophisticated Seasons you’ve ever heard , it’s a lovely tone painting well worth hearing. And speaking of musical seasons, see the Leshnoff recommendation below.
Conductor Ari Rasilainen draws committed performances of both symphonies from the German Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic. The relaxed mood they bring to the lighter sections of these scores is totally refreshing. And the dramatic intensity they generate in the "Titanic" conclusion of the first symphony is quite remarkable.
Clarity and an ideally proportioned soundstage characterize these recordings. The highs are brilliant and the lows, tight and punchy to the point where some may at times find the sound a bit analytic. But any failure to create a less than totally natural-sounding orchestral timbre is made up for by the incredible detail that comes across from these colorful scores.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090511)
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Creith: Vn Conc; Pitfield: Conc Lirico (vn & orch); Arnell: Vn Conc; McAslan/Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
On the heels of their magnificent viola concerto disc of discovery (see the newsletter of 18 February 2009), the folks at Dutton have turned over more stones, and now give us some rarely heard violin concertante works by three contemporary British composers. One of them, Richard Arnell (1917-2009; see the newsletters of 15 February 2008, 25 November 2008 and 18 February 2009) will be familiar to readers of these pages, but Guirne Creith (1907-1996) and Thomas Pitfield (1903-1999) will be new to most, and come as very welcome acquaintances. All of the selections on this new release are world première recordings.
Born the same year as Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994, see the newsletter of 15 September 2007) and Gustav Holst's (1874-1934, see the newsletter of 12 March 2009) daughter Imogen (1907-1984), Creith was also a woman composer. She wrote her concerto between 1932 and 1934, dedicating it to the distinguished English violinist Albert Sammons (1886-1957), who two years later gave the first performance of it on BBC radio with an orchestra conducted by Constant Lambert. Although it was well received, it then disappeared never to be heard of again until a manuscript of it was unexpectedly discovered shortly after her death in 1996. When you hear it, you'll wonder why it's taken over seventy years for such a magnificent work to resurface. But better late than never, and most will find it the high point of this disc!
Creith's concerto is in three movements and opens with a sprightly dialogue between the soloist and orchestra based on a descending four-note riff. A couple of lovely lyrical ideas are then introduced and developed in passages at times reminiscent of Elgar and Delius. The pace then slows and there's just a hint of fiddle fireworks before the first movement flows seamlessly into a gorgeous adagio. This English pastoral centerpiece ends quietly, and the final allegro follows almost immediately as the orchestra plays a spiky four-note motif. This is the germinal idea for the thematic material making up the striking free-form sonata-rondo finale. The concerto ends with a rhapsodic episode for the violin, and some exciting passagework that's a synthesis of what we heard at the beginning of the movement. Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953) would have loved it!
For the most part a self-taught composer, Thomas Pitfield began his career as an arts and crafts teacher who didn't become professionally involved with music until the early 1940s. From that point on he produced a massive body of work, including the Concerto Lirico for Violin and Orchestra (1958) presented here. Untoward incidents surrounding its first performance caused the composer to destroy most of the manuscript and all of the parts for it. Then under circumstances similar to those surrounding the Creith concerto, it wasn't until a microfilm of the full score was discovered after Pitfield's death that it can now be heard.
In one continuous twenty-minute span, it falls into three sections, the first of which begins with rhythmic and thematic mottos that form the basis for an opening theme and variations. This lyrical, rather folksy-sounding section falls lightly on the ear, quietly merging into the elegiac central part of the concerto. Here blues-like solos for the violin and saxophone honor the memory of a colleague who died while Pitfield was writing the concerto. But mournful thoughts soon turn to those of release as the violin suddenly cuts loose with a perky tune, introducing the concluding section of the concerto. This takes the form of an imaginative fantasy that is chock-full of buoyant writing for the soloist, but ends profoundly with reverential pronouncements from the orchestra.
Richard Arnell's Violin Concerto in One Movement was composed in 1940 during his extended stay in the United States (1939-1947). The earlier of two violin concertos -- there's also a Concerto Capriccioso for Violin (1953) -- it was his first big orchestral work. In a single twenty-minute span like the Pitfield, it falls into three general sections separated by cadenzas. The opening is somewhat sinister as the orchestra and violin spin out and elaborate on an anxiety-ridden melodic idea. The extended cadenza that follows makes considerable demands on the soloist and introduces the central part of the work [track-7, beginning at 03:44].
Here highly dramatic, agitated passages alternate with quieter more introspective ones in an ingenious ten-minute, through-composed episode that's filled with fiery fiddling. It closes with another difficult cadenza that prefaces the concluding section of the concerto [track-7, beginning at 13:02]. The mood here is bipolar, with the soloist and orchestra subdued one minute and manic the next. There’s also some passagework reminiscent of Hindemith [track-7, beginning at 15:45]. The concerto ends with a brief rapturous sigh and virtuosic outburst from the violin, capped by a final double forte shriek from the orchestra. In retrospect, this masterfully constructed piece was just a teaser for the magnificent symphonies that soon followed.
Our soloist here, Lorraine McAslan, has always had a keen interest in promoting neglected British composers (see the newsletter of 15 April 2008). And they couldn't have a better champion judging from her highly acclaimed Dutton recording of York Bowen's violin concerto (see the newsletter of 30 September 2006), and the equally stunning performances she delivers on this disc. Committed sensitive support from conductor Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra make this release all the more appealing.
The recordings are generally good with an ideal balance between the soloist and orchestra as well as an accommodating soundstage in a complementary venue. However, those with systems having a robust high end may find themselves turning their level controls counterclockwise on ff passages. By the way, there's a mysterious, barely audible sonic manifestation lasting a couple of seconds after the ending of the Creith concerto [track-3, beginning at 08:33]. It sounds like an edit pop followed by a couple of indistinct spoken words. Maybe it's time to call Ghostbusters!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090510)
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Leshnoff: Vn Conc, Distant Reflections, Stg Qt 1; Wetherbee/Thakar/Balt ChO/Carpe Diem Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Many classical music enthusiasts have probably never heard of American composer Jonathan Leshnoff (b. 1973), but judging by the quality of his music on this new release from Naxos, it won't be long before they do. An associate professor of music at Towson University in Maryland, he is composer-in-residence with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra (BCO), also featured here. And considering the growing number of prestigious commissions for and performances of his music, the BCO was lucky to get him! While the selections on this disc are definitely contemporary sounding, they have an emotional depth and sincerity that give them immediate listener appeal.
This sampling of his creative efforts opens with the 2007 revised version of a violin concerto commissioned by a consortium of orchestras, and originally completed in 2005. It's in five movements and begins with a Westminster Quarters-like motif (WQ) struck by the orchestra. Shivering muted brass then announces the arrival of the violin, which becomes increasingly agitated as it darts in and out of the orchestra. Brilliant scoring and fancy violin work characterize most of the opening movement before the pace gradually slackens, leading right into the adagio. Meditative and prayerful with a couple of references to the WQ, this is the concerto's emotional center of gravity. And well it should be, because it was inspired by a particularly moving story the composer heard from a Holocaust survivor (see the album notes).
There's something rather avian about the scherzo that comes next. Here repeated rhythmic and thematic phrases in the orchestra conjure up images of preening, pecking fowl, while the violin displays in magnificent fashion like some exotic white peacock. The fourth movement is at first mournful. Then with a wave of Leshnoff's magic wand, descending scales on the piano create a never-never land where the soloist becomes an Ariel. Not for long though, as the harmonic texture rapidly darkens, changing the mood to one of anguish. The movement suddenly ends with sustained, pessimistic Mahlerian passages for the strings that also serve as the beginning of the finale. Here the violin soon enters saying Kaddish, and the concerto concludes with an ambiguous cadence, which seems an appropriate observation about the future of humanity.
Lasting only ten minutes, Distant Reflections (2003) is for violin soloist, piano, strings and off-stage string quartet (members of the BCO on this disc). The composer was reportedly interested in medieval, renaissance and early baroque music when he wrote this, and it certainly shows. As a matter of fact he even quotes a melody from the kyrie of Johannes Ockeghem's (c. 1410-1497) Missa prolationum. The hushed opening with brief contemplative passages for the piano and violin, immediately engages the listener's attention. The pace and intensity build with three-note Bartokian cries from the violin, and the piece becomes a dramatic, late-renaissance fantasia. This suddenly fades and the work concludes peacefully with a reference to the Ockeghem [track-6, beginning at 08:13] as the soloist soars heavenwards.
The last selection is Leshnoff's first string quartet, which takes the form of another musical seasons (see the Berg recommendation above). Accordingly it bears the subtitle "The Four Seasons," but is also known by the name "Pearl German" because it was commissioned to celebrate that lady's eightieth birthday. Like Alexander Glazunov's Seasons, it begins with "Winter" where frosty melodic fragments played over sustained chords suggest snow-covered fields. Feverish alternating arco and pizzicato passages characterize "Spring," which ends abruptly as an extended melody in the upper strings ushers in the lazy days of "Summer." The movement increases in tempo as well as structural density, reaching a dramatic climax only to fall back and conclude as it began. Auburn-colored, soaring melodic lines characterize "Autumn," which builds in emotional intensity, and then fades like a fall sunset, ending the quartet in medias res.
Our soloist here is Charles Wetherbee, who is the first violinist of the Carpe Diem String Quartet (CDSQ) also heard on this release. By his own admission, he's hooked on Leshnoff's music and was apparently of considerable help to the composer in revising the concerto (see the album notes). His performances of it as well as the other selections reveal a deep feeling for and total commitment to these emotionally charged scores. The superb BCO under conductor Markand Thakar provide outstanding support in the first two works, while the relatively new CDSQ once again proves itself a class act in the third (see the newsletter of 8 December 2007).
The sound is demonstration quality! Although the orchestral selections were recorded at a different location than the quartet, the soundstages are uniformly ideal. All the orchestral detail of the first two scores is in sharp focus. The instrumental timbre for all three is totally natural across the entire frequency spectrum with silky strings and a well rounded piano sound. Contemporary music lovers and audiophiles will treasure this disc!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090509)
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Ries, Ferd.: Pno & Orch Wks Cpte V3 (Conc 6 in a, etc); Hinterhuber/Grodd/RLiver PO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This is the third volume in Naxos' ongoing series devoted to German-born Ferdinand Ries' (1784-1838) complete works for piano and orchestra, which will include all eight of his concertos (see the newsletter of 10 October 2007). In addition to being a composer, Ries was a highly successful concert pianist who was much in demand throughout Europe. So it's not surprising he wrote his concertos to showcase his own talent, and delayed their publication as long as possible to keep them exclusively for his personal use.
The fact he assigned them opus numbers in order of their appearance in print creates great confusion today as to their compositional chronology. However, after some extensive sleuthing it would appear the one on this disc was probably the sixth (A minor, 1823) to be written.
All three selections here date from his extended stay in London (1813-1823), where he was not only regarded as an outstanding pianist, but also an accomplished composer and fashionable teacher. The concert begins with the concerto, which was written as a farewell to England, and accordingly given the title "Abschieds-Concert von England" ("Farewell Concert for England").
There are moments when the influence of Ferdinand's friend and mentor Beethoven are evident, but for the most part there's an ease and lightness of touch more typical of Ries' contemporary Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837, see the newsletter of 30 January 2008). Some passages even anticipate the piano concertos soon to come from Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849).
In the standard three movements, the first is as long as the last two combined, and begins in furrow-browed Beethoven fashion. But the mood brightens as the soloist enters tossing off a delightful melody embellished with bravura displays. The writing is in the best tradition of romantic concertos, and includes a terrific cadenza that must have wowed London audiences. The movement ends in jubilation with a restatement of the opening theme.
Except for a couple of forte outbursts from the orchestra, there's a serenity and elegance about the larghetto that seem to be a Ries trademark. It contrasts nicely with the supercharged final rondo, which contains a tiny motif [track-3, beginning at 00:55] somewhat like the theme opening the last movement of Mozart's fortieth symphony (1788). The concerto closes with a petite cadenza, after which the orchestra chases the piano out the back door.
The disc concludes with two sets of variations based on English melodies. The first, Grand Variations on "Rule Britannia" (1817), is an ingenious theme and variations laid out in sonata form. It begins with a weighty introduction with fragmented references to the main subject (see the newsletter of 18 February 2009) colorfully adorned by the piano. The soloist then states the big tune in all its glory, which Ries develops in a series of scintillating variations covering an amazing variety of moods. The work ends with a spectacular recapitulative coda, which must be as enjoyable to play as hear.
Introduction et variations brillantes [track-5] was written sometime between 1813 and 1824. Its subject melody is the folk song "Soldier, Soldier Will You marry Me?" that’s reputedly of English origin and became very popular in Colonial America. Not as structurally sophisticated as the previous piece, the composer utilizes catchy tonal and rhythmic devices to come up with an engaging set of variations. The soloist is given plenty of opportunity to dazzle the audience, and there’s a fleeting reference to "Rule Britannia" [09:08] just before the thrilling finale. All this must have made it a real crowd pleaser!
Their recordings for Naxos are fast establishing award-winning pianist Christopher Hinterhuber and conductor Uwe Grodd as two of today's most up-and-coming musicians. This release like their first two Ries CDs (see Naxos-8557638 and 8557844) will win many friends for some unjustly neglected music. The performances by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra are every bit as good as those with the New Zealand and Gavle Symphony Orchestras on the previous discs.
The recordings are pellucid and well focused across a convincing soundstage, with an ideal balance between soloist and orchestra. The instrumental timbre is generally good. However, there are sporadic hints of digital graininess in the piano as well as occasional overly bright massed string passages. Those reservations aside, you'll find this another irresistible bag of Ries's pieces!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090508)
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Tansman: 5 Pieces, Vn Conc, Ste Baroque; Cajler/Nalecz-Niesiolowski/PodlOp&P SO [DUX]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
We've told you about some outstanding symphonies by Polish-born composer Alexander Tansman (1897-1986, see the newsletter of 25 November 2008), and here are three other equally exemplary orchestral selections. Two are for violin and orchestra and date from his Paris years before the Nazi occupation of France forced him to flee to the United States. The third is a suite written after his return to Paris, following World War II. All are stylistically neoclassical, but the composer's Slavic heritage frequently shows through in their melodic and rhythmic makeup. Hearing them, some may find themselves thinking of him as a Polish Stravinsky.
The disc begins with his Five Pieces for Violin written in 1930 on a commission from the great Hungarian violinist, Joseph Szigeti. This delightful modern day Baroque suite begins with a saucy toccata that immediately catches the listener's attention with its syncopated rhythms and virtuosic commentary. The childlike piece that's next begins as a lovely lullaby, but suddenly shifts gears as the soloist and winds create Tansman's version of a musical snuffbox. Perpetual motion is the subject of the next selection, which flits about like that ever popular bumblebee in Rimsky-Korsakov's opera The Tale of the Tsar Sultan (1900). A gorgeous aria featuring the violin mirrored by the oboe follows. The piece then concludes with a chugging basso ostinato which could easily be background music for an animated version of The Little Engine that Could.
Tansman's only violin concerto was composed in 1937 on a commission from a wealthy lady violinist with the agreement that she had exclusive performing rights for a period of one year. Unfortunately the critics of the day were so hard on her that she never got up enough nerve to play it. Then World War II broke out, delaying its première until 1953. Too bad, because the classical music world was denied a magnificent contemporary concerto for nigh onto twenty years!
In four movements, it's a fascinating study in contrasts. The opening movement is made up of rapturous passages alternating with highly animated ones that build to a thrilling bravura climax. The next section starts off as a lyrical lento with a central cadenza for the violin, but abruptly takes flight as the soloist and orchestra engage in an airborne dogfight. The adagio that follows contains a beautiful cantilena for the soloist, and provides the perfect foil for the spectacular finale. Gypsy influences are rife in this frenetic concluding tour de force, which has a spectacular cadenza, and a most imaginative, contrapuntally spiked final coda. The fiddling gets so fierce that one can almost smell burning horsehair!
The concluding selection is the Baroque Suite for Chamber Orchestra completed in 1958. The first of its five sections is a jagged, sinewy offering that's a winning mix of neoclassical Ravel and Stravinsky. The melancholy sarabande and perky divertissement that follow will bring to mind the music of Albert Roussel (1869-1937). Next there's an aria whose opening is strangely reminiscent of Samuel Barber's (1910-1981) Adagio for Strings (1938, and originally the slow movement of his 1936 string quartet). Finally a delightfully effervescent rigaudon bubbles forth from this Baroque bottle of Dom Pérignon.
One couldn't ask for a better violin soloist than Warsaw-born Bartosz Cajler (b. 1980). A virtuoso of the first rank, his performances are full of youthful enthusiasm tempered with great sensitivity for this music. We've praised the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra in Bialystok and their conductor Marcin Nalecz-Nieslolowski before (see the newsletter of 3 October 2008), and once again they prove themselves a class act. They bring an enthusiasm and nationalistic fervor to these scores which will win many friends for a composer who deserves much wider acceptance.
The sonics are crystal clear with an ideal balance between the soloist and orchestra. The soundstage is perfectly proportioned with every instrumental detail in sharp focus. The overall orchestral timbre is admittedly bright, but seems to complement the extraordinary sense of transparency so typical of Tansman’s scores. Audiophiles as well as lovers of twentieth century music will not be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090507)
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Wyner, Y.: Pno Conc, Vc Conc, Lyric…, Epilogue…; Soloists/Spano/S.Wyner/Various Os [Bridge]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Considering his father Lazar (1897-1982) was an eminent composer of Jewish liturgical music and art songs, it's not too surprising that Yehudi Wyner (b. 1929) chose a musical career very early on. At age seventeen he graduated from the Juilliard School with a diploma in piano (1946), and went on to study with Paul Hindemith at Yale as well as Walter Piston and Randall Thompson at Harvard. By 1953 he had earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from both universities.
That same year he won a three-year fellowship in composition at the American Academy in Rome, which greatly expanded his cultural horizons by introducing him to music of different eras and nationalities. Yehudi absorbed all of these influences like a sponge, and has consequently became one of America's most eclectic and versatile composers. A present-day Renaissance man, Wyner's creations are a synthesis of the best from the past and an imaginative sense of the new cloaked in a lyricism that makes them listener friendly. You'll find this disc an ideal introduction to his unique sound world.
The program begins with his Piano Concerto, "Chiavi in Mano" ("Keys in Hand"), which was completed in 2005 and went on to win the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Music. The subtitle is an expression used by Italian automotive and real-estate salespeople that means, "Buy this car/house, and the keys are yours!" It's appropriate to this concerto because it was written at the American Academy in Italy, and the piano part, while interpretively demanding, is physically designed to fall comfortably under the hand.
In a single twenty-minute arch, it might best be described as a theme and transformations. It begins with a rather detached-sounding motif played on the piano. The pace immediately quickens as the orchestra enters, and we're off on an amazing journey of musical free association in which the opening subject is subjected to a continuously evolving series of kaleidoscopic metamorphoses. Stylistic references abound, flashing in and out of existence like subatomic particles. What sounds indifferently dodecaphonic one minute is romantically tonal the next, and there are even a couple of spots reminiscent of the accompaniment to Fats Domino's song "Ain't That A Shame" [track-1, beginning at 12:23 and 17:44]. With such a staggering variety of ideas, the piece bears repeated listening.
Dating from 1994, the Cello Concerto, "Prologue and Narrative" is a contemporary masterpiece that's another theme and transformations in which virtuosity and lyricism compete with one another. In a single span lasting about twenty-five-minutes, it opens with flashy displays by the soloist and melodic passages for the orchestra. An ear-catching idea that could almost be a popular dance tune is then introduced by the winds [track-2, beginning at 4:04]. This will become the idée fixe (IF) of the concerto as it weaves its way in and out of the ingenious set of transmutations that form the "Narrative" part of the work. The variety of stylistic references is once again astounding, and ranges from Monteverdi to Richard Wagner, Schoenberg and Rachmaninov. Lyricism triumphs in the end, and the concerto concludes somberly with the IF lurking about.
This is the première recording of the 1996 revised version of Lyric Harmony written in 1995. Lasting about twenty minutes, one could think of it as a series of eight connected happenings for orchestra. Highlights include a frenetically dissonant opening that gives way to a stately processional reminiscent of Malcolm Arnold. Then there's a percussively explosive episode that leads into a dramatic section where previous ideas are imaginatively developed. The work ends peacefully on the same chord with which it began. If you find this to your tastes, by all means check out another Bridge CD (9134) of Wyner's chamber music that includes his fabulous Horntrio of 1997.
The program concludes with the 1996 Epilogue: in memory of Jacob Druckman (1928-1996), which Wyner composed as a memorial to one of his colleagues and lifelong friends. Written on the heels of the previous piece, you may notice similarities between the two. The ghosts of Sibelius (1865-1957) and Britten (1913-1976) seem to haunt this very moving tribute to a man who must be counted among America's most outstanding contemporary composers. Be sure to investigate his music if you don't already know it.
An expert on the Classical period, renowned Mozart scholar and Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, pianist Robert Levin has made recordings with a number of major labels and needs no further introduction. It was he who came up with the idea that Wyner should write a piano concerto for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His performance of it here with that same group conducted by Robert Spano of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra fame, must be considered definitive.
German cellist Maximilian Hornung and the Odense Symphony Orchestra (OSO) under up-and-coming conductor Susan Davenny Wyner (Yehudi's wife, see the newsletter of 6 December 2006) give us a stunning rendition of the cello concerto. Ms. Wyner delivers equally outstanding readings of Lyric Harmony with the Festival Orchestra of Boston and Epilogue..., again with the OSO.
Although three different venues are represented here, the sound is quite consistent and generally very good thanks to the mastering efforts of the talented Adam Abeshouse. Recorded at a live concert in Symphony Hall, Boston Massachusetts, the piano concerto may sound a bit closely miked and consequently somewhat confined for this outstanding acoustic. But that along with some clever editing probably explains the absence of any audience noise. You'll find the balance between the soloist and orchestra ideal, the piano sound well-rounded, and the instrumental timbre very convincing.
Done sans audience at the Carl Nielsen Hall in Odense Denmark, the cello concerto and Epilogue... prove once again those Danish engineers are unbeatable, at least when it comes to recording orchestral music in that acoustic. The sound approaches that on a phenomenal demonstration quality Ginastera CD they did a few years ago for Bridge (9130), which all audiophiles should own.
Another live recording, Lyric Harmony was taped at Jordan Hall, Boston Massachusetts, but again you'd never know it because there's no indication an audience was present. Not only that, the soundstage is very convincing with no hint of any confinement.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090506)
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