CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
13 JULY 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.
D'Indy, V.: Orch Wks V2 (Sym 2, Tableaux de voyage, Karadec Ste); Gamba/Ice SO [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
D'Indy, V.: Orch Wks V1 (Jour d'été à la..., Forêt enchantée, Souvenirs); Gamba/Ice SO [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Now there are two volumes from Chandos of orchestral works by French composer Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) in addition to the one from Hyperion we recently told you about (see the newsletter of 15 April 2009). A highly esteemed scholar and teacher, he could count among his students Joseph Canteloube (1879-1957, see the newsletter of 8 December 2007), Arthur Honegger (1892-1955), Darius Milhaud (1892-1974, see the newsletter of 17 February 2007), Albert Roussel (1869-1937) and Erik Satie (1866-1925), as well as the Belgian-born composer Guy Weitz (1883-1970) mentioned in the "Organ Fireworks" recommendation below. But he was also an accomplished composer, who should be remembered for more than his ever popular Symphony on a French Mountain Air (1886 and actually a piano concerto). The d'Indy revival now in progress should go a long way towards doing just that.
A devout Roman Catholic, d'Indy believed that structurally speaking a symphony should have the architectural integrity of a Gothic cathedral. He felt he could accomplish this by applying the cyclic principles he'd learned from his studies with César Franck (1822-1890), and the second (1902-03) of his three symphonies (the first is currently available, but not the third), which begins Chandos' second volume, is a good case in point.
While on a romantic scale, it's in the standard four classical movements, and opens with an ominous theme (OT). Soon a sprightly idea (SI) that may bring to mind the first movement of Ernest Chausson's (1855-1899) Symphony in B flat Major (1899-90) makes its appearance [track-1, beginning at 02:02] followed by a third more relaxed motif. The three are then subjected to a stirring, chromatically colorful Franck-like development. The movement ends in an extensive recapitulation capped with a thrilling coda based on SI.
The slow movement is an extended lied sung by a variety of solo instruments. Frequent changes of mood reflected in this brilliantly orchestrated section of the symphony make it emotionally captivating, and set the stage for the lighter "scherzimezzo" that's next. This buoyant offering is highly infectious and contains a melody [track-3, beginning at 02:09] that anticipates "The March of the Fauns" in Gabriel Pierné's (1863-1937) Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (1914-15).
The cyclicity referred to above is very evident in the finale, whose dark beginning is based on OT and could almost be out of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). A jubilant galloping theme derived from SI soon appears, and becomes the centerpiece for this sonata-rondo movement. It gains in exuberance and momentum only to lapse into a Franckian funk. Then the clouds suddenly roll by, and a fabulous sunlit chorale paean, again based on OT, ends the symphony in a blaze of glory.
Tableaux de voyage (Op. 36, 1891-92) is a collection of orchestrations d'Indy made of six pieces drawn from a set of thirteen for solo piano (1889, Op. 33, not currently available). Originally composed as musical snapshots of hiking trips he had made in the Black Forest and Tyrol, as presented here they form a charming suite that recalls those of Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). Highlights include a moonlit "Préambule," folksy "En marche," sorrowful "Le Glas" and concluding "Rêve," which as the name implies, ends this photo album somewhere in dreamland.
Karadec (1890) is a suite for small orchestra made up of three character pieces the composer extracted from incidental music he'd written for a play of the same name. The rather rustic-sounding opening "Prélude" is followed by a "Chanson" that could well be folk based. Again we're reminded of d'Indy's preoccupation with cyclicity in the final "Noce bretonne," which starts with a severe version of the theme that opened the suite. The mood suddenly brightens as country dancers seem to materialize, and the work ends with the upward wave of a cavorting peasant's hand (see the Klose Ilsebill recommendation below for more peasant activities).
Chandos' first volume, begins with the three-part tone poem Jour d'été à la montagne (Summer Day on the Mountain) written in 1905. This is nature music (see the Pizzetti Concerto dell-estate recommendation below), depicting a summer day in the mountains. It opens with a spectacular, magnificently orchestrated sunrise complete with chirping birdies. The lithe melody beginning the next section suggests warm sunshine and gentle summer breezes. A more active pastoral sounding episode follows and erupts into an alfresco dance as thunderheads build in the distant sky. A sudden storm clears the air, and the section ends much as it began. The churning motif that opens the finale suggests day fading into night, and introduces a restrained modal eventide motif. The symphonic fabric d'Indy weaves from these two ideas is some of the finest in the piece. It then ends cyclically with remembrances of the opening sunrise. Generally speaking Jour... shows the influence of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) with a little Richard Strauss (1864-1949) thrown in for good measure.
Next up, something really Wagnerian written in 1877-78 shortly after the composer attended the première of The Ring at Bayreuth. La Forêt enchantée (The Enchanted Forest) is a symphonic legend after a ballad by German poet Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862). In three scenes, it opens with a knight and his brave warriors galloping through the moonlit forest in Chausseur maudit (1882) fashion. The second scene follows immediately as tremulous strings and eerie harp embellishments announce the appearance of magic forest sprites. They entice all of the knight's weak-minded companions away, and the final scene begins with martial flourishes proclaiming his heroic resolve to resist their wiles. He then drinks from an enchanted spring, falls asleep, and the sprites reappear, surrounding him in a magic circle. Do you suppose Loge could have been one of them? The legend ends soporifically, suggesting that unlike Rip Van Winkle, our knight will never awaken.
The disc is filled out with Souvenirs, which dates from 1906-07 and was written as a tribute to the composer's beloved wife who had recently died (see the newsletter of 17 February of 2007). This twenty-minute symphonic remembrance is some of the most affecting d'Indy you'll ever hear! In four connected episodes, the first is grief-stricken and smacks a bit of Albéric Magnard (1865-1914). The next has an exuberance that must reflect the happiness and contentment the couple shared. There's a hair-raising chromaticism and appealing symmetry about the phrasing that make it more like the music of Papa Franck than anything else on these discs. The sole-searching, lachrymal penultimate episode sets the emotional tone for the finale, where alternately uplifting and dispirited passages reflect the composer's agitated emotional state. A feeling of peaceful resignation dominates the closing measures, and provides a satisfying final resting place for the memory of his dear wife.
Some symphonies play themselves, but not the one here, which requires special handling to achieve its full potential. In the past it was best represented by a dated mono recording of a 1942 performance with the San Francisco Symphony under Pierre Monteux. That's no longer the case now that we have it on this spectacular release from Chandos featuring the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (ISO) under its music director Rumon Gamba. British-born and trained, we've sung his praises before as a conductor of English music (see the newsletters of 9 March 2006, 15 June 2008 and 15 April 2009), but these dandy discs prove he's also a master interpreter of romantic French repertoire. Under his direction the members of the ISO become total Francophiles, delivering exemplary performances of everything. You won't be disappointed!
Both discs present sweeping but well-focused soundstages where all of the instrumental detail in these vividly orchestrated scores comes through in ravishing Technicolor. The orchestral timbre is bright but natural-sounding over the entire frequency spectrum, which includes some very low, exquisitely clean bass. While the string sound seems a tad smoother on the later CD, it would undoubtedly have been silkier on both in the Super Audio format, had these been hybrid releases. As is usually the case with Chandos recordings, the dynamic range is most impressive, making for a couple of discs that should become audiophile favorites, and high-end showroom staples despite a couple of "Bernstein Bounces" by Rumon.
Caveat emptor volumus secundus! Some tracking problems were experienced with the initial review copy of volume two, and the Naxos folks, who distribute Chandos in the US, very kindly provided another. Similar difficulties were encountered on that, although they occurred at different places. This was with high-end machines (an Arcam 36 and a Sony XA9000ES), so just to cover all bases, it seemed advisable to try them on a bare-bones portable player (Sony D-EJ010). "No problemo!"
This raised the possibility that foreign debris and/or scratches on the CD surfaces were causing the fussier tracking/error-correction systems in the more sophisticated machines to hang-up. A careful inspection revealed scratches on both discs, with some on the first copy being of the most fatal variety (concentrically circular). If some of these blemishes could be buffed off, the discs just might play. So some gentle wiping with a special CD cleaning cloth seemed in order. That done, the second copy, but not the first, made it all the way through on the XA9000ES without incident. If you encounter similar difficulties, do try the same trick.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090713, Y090712)
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Klose, F.: Ilsebill (cpte opera); Soloists/Bosch/Aachen Cs&SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
Like Anton Bruckner (1824-1896), with whom he studied for three years (1886-1889), German composer Friederich Klose (1862-1942) was an ardent Wagnerian, and it shows in his opera Ilsebill. Completed in 1903 and based on the fairy tale The Fisherman and his Wife collected by the Brothers Grimm, this "singmärchen" is another significant addition to the German romantic opera genre (see the newsletter of 9 June 2009). The story involves a magic fish able to grant wishes, and the wife of a fisherman whose ambition knows no bounds. Intricately constructed and immaculately orchestrated, it's surprising it’s never achieved the popularity it would seem to deserve. Informative notes, a plot synopsis and the complete libretto are included in the album booklet, and should add all the more to your enjoyment of it.
It's in five scenic pictures, which we'll refer to as acts. The first begins with a lovely brief introduction as dawn breaks along the shore of a mountain lake where a fisherman and his wife live in a hollowed out tree hut. The tempo quickens as he throws out his net, soon catching a huge sheatfish. Being a fairy tale opera, this fish can of course sing, and a tune-swept exchange between captor and captive ensues. The fish begs for his freedom, promising to return and reward the fisherman any time he's called.
He frees the fish and calls to his wife, Ilsebill, who lies sleeping in the hut. She comes out and he tells her about his amazing encounter in a duo which becomes increasingly agitated as the wife expresses doubts about her husband's story. Peasants on prosperous nearby farms are then heard singing and dancing in the distance (see the d'Indy Karadec recommendation above for more peasant dances). This prompts Ilsebill to demand her husband prove his story by calling the fish and asking for a fine house and farm. He does so to the accompaniment of some highly colorful magic music with sparkling passages for piano and harp.
The second act curtain goes up on a magnificent farmhouse where the tree hut once was. The music now becomes rustically jolly (shades of Die Meistersinger) as maids and servants wait on the now richly attired fisherman and his wife seated by the lakeside. A splendiferous episode follows where a noble lady and her hunting party appear. Horn calls à la Siegfried, and festive music that may recall Humperdinck (1854-1921) characterize the encounter. This sets the stage for the next act, where Ilsebill, no longer satisfied with being a well-to-do peasant, wants the magic mackerel to turn her into a member of the ruling nobility.
As the third act opens the farmhouse has been transformed into a mighty castle. Crowned, luxuriously dressed and surrounded by a courtly entourage, Ilsebill makes a stately progress into the courtyard next to the lake. The stirring heraldic music that characterizes all this soon turns religiously somber as a monk and some choir boys appear. The monk exhorts Ilsebill's knights to become crusaders and fight the infidel. The scene contains some of the most dramatic music in the opera, and hearkens back to Wagner's Lohengrin (1850). Once again seeds of discontent have been sowed in Ilsebill's mind, and she now wants to become a bishop with all the power of the church. So it's fish and wish time again as our henpecked piscator once again summons up their deep-sea benefactor.
As the fourth act begins we see an imposing cathedral instead of the castle. The orchestra augmented with organ and bells adds all the more to the reverential solemnity of the occasion as the weapons of the knights turned crusaders are blessed. Sounds of thunder announce the arrival of a violent storm, which causes all to flee into the cathedral except Ilsebill. This display of nature creates even greater delusions of grandeur in her, and she now demands her husband to get Herr Fisch to make her like God. But this time she's gone too far!
A brilliantly orchestrated storm interlude follows, and the fifth act curtain goes up revealing the same set with which the opera opened. Ilsebill and her husband are once again simple fishing folk! The concluding music is some of the most effective in the opera, and seems to perfectly express the sentiment that boundless ambition is inevitably self-destructive, undoing all the good that might have once been. Or was it all just a dream?
What the vocal soloists may lack in technical ability, they make up for with committed, enthusiastic performances. The same can be said for the Aachen Opera Choruses and Children's Choir, as well as the Aachen Symphony Orchestra under conductor Marcus Bosch.
This is a live recording, and consequently there are isolated instances of stage as well as audience noise; however, there's no applause until the very end. We're lucky to have a modern day stereo recording of this little known opera, and most will find the music so engaging that they'll soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090711)
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Pizzetti: Conc dell'estate, Prels & Inc Music fm 3 Stage Wks; Michailidis/ThesSt SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Unlike the grandiose symphonic creations of Respighi (1879-1936), Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968) wrote music of great refinement closer to that of Malipiero (1882-1973) and Casella (1883-1947). That's not to imply it's devoid of drama. On the contrary, the orchestral selections presented here are full of emotion in keeping with Pizzetti's stated belief that music should express life in action.
The Concerto dell-estate (Summer Concerto) dating from 1928 is an undiscovered Italian late romantic masterpiece, which the composer understandably considered his most important work. In three-movement and for a large orchestra, the concertante parts are for a variety of instrumental soloists and groups. But the emphasis is on tone color rather than virtuosity, and the mood conjured up is one of bucolic summer nature music (see the d'Indy Jour d'été à la montagne recommendation above, and the newsletters of 28 January 2009 and 15 April 2009). No wonder Pizzetti referred to it as his "pastoral symphony."
In the first "Morning" movement one can picture some idyllic countryside with rolling green hills, colorful red barns and all sorts of farmyard animals going about their matinal routines. The activity slows as the sun beats down and the temperature rises. Then an afternoon storm clears the air, and the day ends with joyful thematic remembrances of how it all began. The following "Nocturnal" movement finds the composer in a rustic introspective frame of mind. There's a neoclassical simplicity (see the newsletter of 9 June 2009) about the "Galliard and Finale" that ends the work. The peasant-like dance (see the d’Indy Karadec and Klose Ilsebill recommendations above) with which it begins transforms into an impressionistic landscape bathed in gorgeous Pizzettian twilight. Don't miss out on this one!
All of the remaining selections on this disc, like the Simonsen second symphony recommended below, have ties to ancient Greece. The triptych, Tre Preludii Sinfonici per L'Edipo Re di Sofocle (Three Symphonic Preludes for Sophocle's Oedipus Rex), was written in 1904 for a Milan production of the play, and very effectively capture it's emotional highs. The first reflects the misery of the Theban people suffering from a terrible plague. The second is highly agitated and in keeping with such psychologically supercharged concepts as patricide and incest. The last conjures up the world of tragedy and darkness blind Oedipus finds himself in. Although there may be a tiny glimmer of hope at the very end, this must rank with some of the most harrowing music written for the theater.
The program continues with the prelude to the composer's last opera Clitennestra (Clytemnestra), which was written between 1962 and 1964. It's an ideal example of his ability to come up with highly dramatic music without resorting to the chromatic and orchestral excesses exhibited by many other late romantic composers (see the newsletter of 20 November 2006).
The disc concludes with three more incidental selections written for the 1936 Festa delle Panatence (The Feast of the Panathenaea) held at the Greek temples in Paestum. This was a staged series of open-air recitations based on the writings of Homer, Sophocles and several other Classical Greek authors. Pizzetti had made a study of ancient music, and while no one has any idea what it actually sounded like, he incorporated some of the modes known to exist back then into what we have here.
The lighthearted opening prelude is quite wind oriented, and one can imagine the flute as a modern day representation of the aulos so often pictured in Classical Greek art. Pentatonic and modal references abound in The "Dance for the Offering of the Peplos to Pallas Athena." Alternately slow and fast, there's a Delphic ambiguity about it that's captivating. The final "March of the Procession" is appropriately ceremonious, and with encouragement from the brass, builds to a rousing conclusion. It ends this exquisite disc in cinematic fashion, but only in the best sense of that term.
It seems quite appropriate that a Greek orchestra, the Thessaloniki Sate Symphony Orchestra, is represented here, considering all the Hellenic associations present. Having appeared on only two other CDs, chances are you've never heard this group. But it's a class act, and under conductor Myron Michailidis the performances are technically perfect, highly colorful and full of enthusiasm for this unusual repertoire.
The recordings are very good from the soundstage perspective, and recreate a convincing virtual image of the orchestra in a warm venue. The instrumental timbre is natural enough, but those liking crystalline highs may find the sound a bit rolled off for their tastes.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090710)
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Salonen, E.-P.: Helix (orch), Pno Conc, Dichotomie for Pno Solo; Bronfman/Salonen/LA P [DGG]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
These three works by Finnish composer/conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958) appear here for the first time on CD, and are offered in commemoration of his final performances this year as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Considering his many years on the podium, it's not surprising to find the two orchestral selections show him to be a magnificent colorist. And like his other symphonic creations, they sustain a phenomenal level of kinetic energy. This is also true of the powerhouse, solo piano piece included.
The program begins with Helix (2005), which might best be described as a nine-minute, symphonic solid geometrical happening. The music accelerates upwards in ever smaller and faster melodic spirals, and then suddenly disappears. With a mechanistic rhythmicity that’s a combination of Maurice Ravel's (1875-1937) Bolero (1928) and Alexander Mosolov's (1900-1973) Iron Foundry (1926-28), it's quite spellbinding.
The piano concerto was completed in 2007 on a joint commission that included the New York Philharmonic, which premièred it that same year. It celebrates the composer’s longstanding friendship with pianist Yefim Bronfman (b. 1958), who's the soloist here. In three movements, it opens with percussion and strings introducing a theme that could well depict a lumbering giant. Shortly thereafter the piano emerges cautiously, but gathering confidence, becomes more and more brazen. Virtuosic displays follow as the piano and orchestra engage in a highly colorful dialogue that becomes increasingly intense. There's something here reminiscent of the more exciting moments in the Prokofiev piano concertos. A saxophone joins the conversation towards the end of the movement, which concludes with a single piano note and gentle thump on the bass drum.
The next movement begins with a flashy, florid cadenza that's quite melodic at its core. As the soloist winds down, the woodwinds enter like so many birds, and the music takes on a Slavic folk-like character (see the newsletter of 16 January 2007). Avian passages alternate with highly melodic ones that could almost be out of Rachmaninov, and the movement ends in medias res.
The spectacular finale must be heard to be believed! It may well be the most colorful conclusion to a contemporary piano concerto yet written. Brilliant orchestral effects and thrilling bravura piano writing create a sonic tornado that picks the listener up and carries him away. No wonder the New York Times reviewer said he couldn't remember the last time a New York Philharmonic première had won such an enthusiastic ovation.
The disc is filled out with Dichotomie (2000) for piano solo. In two parts, the first is subtitled "Mécanisme," and with it's highly demanding virtuosic writing is reminiscent of the wilder moments in the Prokofiev (1891-1953) piano sonatas. However, there's a kineticism here that's all Salonen, and certainly in keeping with the composer's likening it to Jean Tinguely's (1925-1991) mobiles.
While the second part, entitled "Organisme," is generally more restrained, it still represents a significant technical challenge. What begins as a delicate note-ridden structure becomes more complex as the work builds. Small thematic cells are layered one upon another to achieve an exciting climax that suddenly dissipates in an evaporative upward scale.
With his incredible ear for color and propensity to write hyperactive music, Salonen's two piano pieces might easily become vacuous virtuosic exercises in the hands of some insensitive grandstanding soloist. But that's not the case here! Yefim Bronfman tempers his phenomenal keyboard technique with a sensitivity for this music that brings out the many dynamic and structural subtleties lying beneath its surface. The performances of the two orchestral works by the Los Angeles Philharmonic under the composer himself must be considered definitive.
Dichotomie was recorded without an audience at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. The piano sound is quite good, and sufficiently spread out to give Salonen's dense music breathing space. The orchestral works were taped live at the new Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. With a wide but somewhat close soundstage, the piano and orchestra are rendered quite faithfully, and the balance between the two is just right. However, the very low bass is rather leaden, and there is an explosion of well-deserved applause after Helix. Other than that audience noise is not a concern.
One last note, despite the fact that it comes in a hybrid box this is only a conventional CD with no Super Audio tracks. The producers probably intended it to be multi-format, but later changed their minds after the packaging had been procured.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090709)
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Simonsen: Sym 1 "Zion", Sym 2 "Hellas", Ov; Yinon/SJut SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Although his name will be new to most, during his adult life Rudolph Simonsen (1889-1947) was one of the best known and most highly regarded musical personalities in Denmark. A true Renaissance man, his interests also included art, literature and philosophy, which may explain why he had pretty much ceased composing by the age of thirty-seven (1926).
After that his music-related activities centered around teaching and administration. It was he who was appointed to fill Carl Nielsen's (1865-1931) post as principle of the Royal Danish Academy of Music when the latter died in 1931. However, World War II and the Nazi persecution of Danish Jews that began in 1943 forced him to seek asylum in neutral Sweden. When the war ended in 1945, he returned to Denmark, but the conflict had taken a tremendous psychological toll on him, and he died prematurely at age fifty-eight in 1947.
1910 saw him compose three stand-alone overtures that may well have been exercises in writing the first movement of a symphony. Our program begins with the last of these, which is in G minor and opens solemnly in Brucknerian fashion. A couple of angular agitated ideas are then stated, giving way to a piteous theme in the winds. An accomplished development section invoking a feeling of impending disaster follows. However, the mood becomes more optimistic as the opening themes are recapitulated, and the overture ends triumphantly with the forces of good overcoming evil. Some may find it brings to mind the music of his compatriot and contemporary Rued Langgaard (1893-1952, see the newsletters of 20 September 2006, 7 February 2007, 11 July 2007 and 15 June 2008).
It wasn't until ten years later (1920) that Simenson actually got around to writing the first of his four symphonies, which he entitled "Zion." While it's not meant to tell a story, its three movements are programmatic, having been inspired by the Old Testament account of the Lord's delivery of the Jewish people from bondage in Egypt, and their journey to The Promised Land.
It's easy to picture Egyptian taskmasters beating their Hebrew slaves in the rhythmically flagellatory opening, which is called "The Struggle against Slavery." Lasting almost twenty-minutes, the sublime second movement, subtitled "The Promise," is in two sections. The first is a highly unified, Sibelian extended melodic structure that builds to a tremendous climax, and then gradually fades away. One can easily imagine it as a musical depiction of "a land flowing with milk and honey." The second part [track-3, beginning 12:41] is at first melancholy, but turns funereal perhaps in memory of all the Israelites who died during those years of wandering in the desert.
The third and final movement begins with high-stepping fugal strings that incite the rest of the orchestra to a jubilant hymn of thanksgiving. There's an optimistic expansiveness about all this that invokes a feeling of well-being and hope for the Jewish people in their new land. It's a powerful ending to one of the first Danish works with ties to Judaic culture.
Like the theater-related music of Pizzetti recommended above, Simonsen's second symphony has ties to Greece, and is accordingly called "Helas." Written in 1921, it was inspired by the many remnants of ancient Greek civilization the composer came across on a trip to Sicily the previous year.
The first movement, "The Oresteia," named after Aeschylus' surviving trilogy of tragedies, is intensely powerful. There are passages for high winds and strings underscored with drum rolls reminiscent of the more austere moments in Nielsen's Inextinguishable Symphony (No. 4, 1914-16). The immense tension generated is released somewhat by the next movement, "Loneliness at the Temples." Featuring mournful woodwinds, this is a melancholic remembrance of Greece’s Golden Age.
The triumphant cinematic finale, "Pallas Athena," would seem to celebrate the cultural legacy left to the world by ancient Greece. Hearing it, one wonders if Sir William Walton (1902-1983) might have known and had this music in the back of his mind when he wrote the score for Lawrence Olivier's 1944 film version of Henry V? It's a powerful conclusion to a symphony that's a real winner. On that note, back in the 1920s medals were also given at the Olympic Games for artistic accomplishments. And in 1928 this symphony was the only one of twenty-two musical works submitted to be so honored.
Speaking of the Olympics, if there were a gold medal for conductors who came up with the most imaginative and interesting repertoire, Israel Yinon (b. 1956) would certainly get one! Down through the years he has probably introduced deep catalog aficionados to more little known, outstanding symphonic music deserving of much wider acceptance than anyone else out there.
What's more, when it comes to classical esoterica, he's certainly not like many conductors who are satisfied with recording a one-shot, perfunctory read-through of the score in question. The sensitivity and attention to detail he brings to anything he does is extraordinary. His ability to draw outstanding performances from little known orchestras, like the South Jutland Symphony featured here, is remarkable. Bottom line, Simonsen couldn't have a better advocate!
The recordings are brilliantly clear, and project a convincing soundstage wrapped in an accommodating venue. But those with unforgiving systems may wish the highs didn't shine quite so brightly, and may want to do a little knob-twiddling to compensate accordingly.
At the risk of offending audiophile purists, those with home theater set-ups might want to try playing this conventional stereo CD in one of the multi-channel (five or more) modes typically offered on such systems. This should diffuse the sound, making it more like what one hears in the concert hall, and hopefully a more musical listening experience.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090708)
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Org Fireworks V13 (10 by 10, 19-20th c cmpsrs); Herrick/VästCath Org, Swed [Hyperion]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
"Thirteen" may be considered unlucky in certain contexts, but not when it's the volume number of British organist Christopher Herrick's (b. 1942) most recent "Organ Fireworks" release for Hyperion. As a matter of fact many may find his exceedingly imaginative program makes it the best installment yet! The ten selections included are each by different European composers, and date from the early 1800s up through the present day. Located in the cathedral at Västeras, Sweden, the organ was originally built in 1898 by Akerman & Lund of Stockholm. Fairly large, and having that clarity as well as tonal immaculacy typical of North German and Scandinavian instruments of its day, it's ideally suited to everything here.
The program begins with some feux d'artifice written in 1939 by Belgian-born, French-trained composer Guy Weitz (1883-1970). A student of Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931, see the d'Indy recommendations above), Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911, see the newsletter of 1 June 2007) and Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937, see the newsletter of 8 February 2010), his Grand choer "Benedicamus Domino" is based on the plainsong referenced in the title. It opens with chordal fanfares that announce a fetching, fugal toccata with which the piece ends festively à la française.
A student of Herbert Howells (1892-1983, see the newsletter of 1 June 2007), British-born Derek Bourgeois' (b. 1941) Prelude and Toccata dating from 2002 is next. He's one of the most prolific English composers alive today, a fact that may explain the apparent ease with which his music flows. A relaxed opening prelude with some stately Edwardian moments provides the thematic fiber for the toccata that concludes this piece in a state of knuckle-busting jubilation.
And now for a real curiosity! Another set of variations on "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" by a student of J.S. Bach (1685-1750, see the newsletters of 30 April 2008 and 28 January 2009). Written forty years after the much loved one for piano Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) came up with in 1781-82, Johann Rinck's (1770-1846) charming Variations and Finale on "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" (French variant of "Twinkle...") is for organ. Like Ernst von Dohnanyi's (1877-1960, see the newsletters of 15 July 2006, 30 June 2007 and 30 May 2008) 1914 Variations on a Nursery Theme, it begins in a humorously severe manner, considering what's coming. There are passages that even seem to anticipate the "Liebestod" from Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) Tristan und Isolde (1865), but gloom turns to glee with the sudden appearance of the nursery tune. The eight inventive variations that follow conjure up a variety of moods, the last being a celestial state of grace invoked by the "Voix céleste" and/or "Vox humana" stops. Being a student of old JS, what better way to end this Mother Goose rhyme than with a magnificent fugue that wells up into a rousing conclusion for full-organ.
Born in Stockholm, Otto Olsson (1879-1964) was one of the finest organists of his day, and a composer of great merit. In 1925 he wrote a symphony for organ entitled "Credo symphoniacum," and the first movement from that, Introduction and Allegro is next. The entire work is based on plainsong motifs with "Credo in unum Deum" being the one that underlies what we have here. Forcefully stated at the outset, Olsson shows what a master craftsman he was by developing this simple tune into a towering, at times rather Franckian-sounding structure. Talk about d'Indy's desire to structure symphonies like Gothic cathedrals (see the d'Indy second symphony recommendation above), Olsson certainly seems to have done just that here.
Mention the name Lloyd Webber in musical circles and most people immediately think of Andrew (b. 1948) of feline fame, or even his brother, cellist Julian (b. 1951). But the one honored here is their father, William (1914-1982), who was a distinguished British organist and composer as evidenced by his 1953 Dedication March. Possibly written in conjunction with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it's a stirring combination of Sirs Edward Elgar (1857-1934) and William Walton (1902-1983), but with a certain air of unpredictability that would seem to be a Lloyd Webber trait.
One of the finest recitalists of his time, Edwin Lemare (1866-1934) did many organ transcriptions of symphonic music that have become legendary. But he also wrote a number of equally enjoyable original works for that instrument like the toccata and fugue presented here. The flashy toccata allows the soloist to show off his digital dexterity, while the thrilling fugue, with its dashing pedal runs, requires some fancy footwork. It ends in the manner of old JSB's piece by the same name (BWV 565).
An infectious ramble by one of the world's best loved composers, Percy Aldridge Grainger (1882-1961), follows. Most know the clog dance Handel in the Strand (1932, from his second Room-Music Tit-Bits) in its orchestral guise, but here it is for organ as arranged by the distinguished German organist and composer Wolfgang Stockmeier (b. 1931). Percy's love for Baroque music and that youthful energy found in practically everything he wrote, show in this palate-cleanser. But don't get too relaxed, because there's some heavy weather ahead in the form of the next selection.
One of Britain's greatest composers, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) also spent time on the organ bench, and here's his 1920-21 Prelude and Fugue for that instrument. The impressive opening prelude is a magnificent baroque pointed edifice of romantic proportions. The pentatonic subject that begins the fugue brings to mind VW's more pastoral-sounding efforts. With consummate skill he then proceeds to build a contrapuntal structure of staggering proportions, whose ending must rank as one of his most impressive. There's a baroque no-nonsense rigor about this piece which will have you playing it over and over. And if you don't already know it, you'll also want to investigate the composer's own 1930 arrangement of it for organ and orchestra.
French composer Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), like his teacher Paul Dukas (1865-1935, see the newsletter of 9 June 2009) left a sparsity of works, which is all the more unfortunate, considering the consistently high quality of everything they wrote. That's particularly true of Duruflé's organ music, which is represented here by the last part of his Prelude, Adagio and Chorale Variations on the theme of "Veni Creator" (1930). The hymnlike opening is subjected to a couple of subtle, beautifully registrated variations that by contrast make the powerful, toccata-driven finale all the more exciting.
The disc concludes with music by another British composer we recently brought to your attention, William Mathias (1934-1992, see the newsletter of 12 March 2009), who penned some of Britain's finest modern day church music. His high-strung Recessional provides an appropriately colorful conclusion to this brilliant display of pipe work pyrotechnics.
To exploit an outstanding organ like this to its fullest you need a soloist who's got more than just nimble hands and feet. He must also know the tonal characteristics of its different ranks of pipes (stops), and how best to combine (registrate) them. Christopher Herrick qualifies on all counts, making this disc a must for organ buffs, and an ideal introduction to the "Pope of Instruments" for those not that familiar with it. Credit should also go to Per-Lennart Isaksson for assistance with the stops, and playing an occasional note on one of the manuals when it was either unavailable in the pedals (Duruflé), or unreachable by virtue of the keyboard layout (Olsson).
Those liking a more recessed, distant organ sound will find this recording most appealing. Consequently there is absolutely none of that high end glare encountered when organs are closely miked, and your speakers become in-your-face organ cases. There's an articulate crispness about the sound of this instrument over the entire frequency spectrum that makes for very enjoyable listening. Audiophiles will be delighted, particularly with the Vaughan Williams fugue, which is a demonstration piece par excellence.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090707)
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