CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 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.
Alfano, F.: Vn, Vc & Pno Conc, Vc Son; Darvarova/Magill/Dunn [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
If asked who Naples-born Franco Alfano (1875-1954) was, most knowledgeable classical music lovers would reply that he’s the guy who completed Puccini's (1858-1924)Turandot, and leave it at that! But he was also an extremely well educated man (he studied in Leipzig with Solomon Jadassohn -- see the newsletters of 15 April 2009 and 9 June 2009 ), who was highly regarded as a teacher, and a very talented composer to boot! In fact he wrote several successful operas in addition to a very distinguished body of chamber music, some of which we're treated to here.
The first work on this informatory release is a three-movement piano trio dating from 1932 that Alfano called a concerto, probably because of the virtuosic demands made on each of the soloists. With a neoclassical simplicity similar to that of Pizzetti’s (1880-1968) Concerto dell-estate (1928, see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), the Alfano is in three stylistically diverse movements. The first, which is the longest and lasts almost as long as the last two combined, is an affecting modal rumination with possible religious overtones, and an austerity like that found in sacred Renaissance music.
The next, an allegretto fantastico, features a fetching combination of Basque (see the newsletter of 15 July 2006) as well as Magyar (see the newsletter of 15 July 2006) folk elements, and ends on a mystical note. The final presto, which is the most modern sounding of the three, is celebratory, ending this unusual trio with what could pass for a Roman triumph (see the newsletter of 25 July 2007). Maybe it reflects the pressures being placed on Italian artists by the Fascisti in the 1930s to be patriotic and extol things related to the motherland.
Next up, a sonata for cello and piano that was composed in 1925 on a commission from American music patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953). When you hear it you'll have to agree it's right up there with the chamber music written for her by the likes of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Sir Arthur Bliss (1891-1975), Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) and Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953). Lasting over half an hour, it's not only a significant but substantial contribution to the cello literature. There's an emotional straightforwardness in keeping with the verismo style of opera that was all the rage at the time, while harmonically speaking, it's linked to the world of Debussy (1862-1918) and Ravel (1875-1937).
Extremely demanding technically, its three movements explore all the cello's tonal facets. The opening lento is impressionistically wistful and seems a nostalgic remembrance of treasured times long gone by. The allegretto that follows is a refreshing change of pace with an oriental exoticism. It lulls the ear into a relaxed state soon to be banished by the anxiety-ridden tragic finale. Be advised that repeated listening is a prerequisite for full appreciation of this emotionally complex piece!
Our soloists here, violinist Almira Darvarova, cellist Samuel Magill and pianist Scott Dunn are terrific. In addition to being technically gifted, they have the full measure of these two rarely heard, but extremely cultivated Italian finds. One can only hope they'll again join forces in the not too distant future to bring us more of the same. Bravo!
The recordings are superb and deliver a generous virtual soundstage stage that emphasizes the sincerity and emotional depth of this little known chamber music. The instrumental timbre is perfect across the entire frequency spectrum, a fact helped by a warm venue. The recording engineers are to be complimented for using microphones that faithfully captured each of the instruments, and for a setup and final mix that achieved a perfect balance between them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090731)
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Farrenc: Pno Trio 1 (w vn & vc), Pno Trio 3 (w vn & cl), Sxt (pno & winds); Linos En [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Not too long ago we told you about some romantic chamber music by two French women composers (see the newsletters of 30 March 2008 and 15 May 2008), and here's more by a lady compatriot of theirs, Louise Farrenc (1804-1875), who lived about fifty years earlier. Having studied with Hummel (1778-1837, see the newsletters of 30 June 2007 and 30 January 2008) as well as Moscheles (1794-1870), and highly regarded by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), her music falls into the late-classical/early-romantic category and shows German influences.
The first and third of her four piano trios are featured here. Both are in four movements with the former (1841-44) scored for the usual violin, cello and piano combination, while a clarinet replaces the violin in the latter (1854-56). They are a fetching combination of Beethoven and Mendelssohn with the later one anticipating Brahms (1833-1897).
The disc is filled out with her sextet for piano, flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, dating from 1852. In three movements that follow a fast-slow-fast scheme, you'll find it a delightful, beautifully written mini piano concerto ŕ la Hummel.
Our soloists here are members of the enterprising Linos Ensemble, who not too long ago gave us that outré dietetic Bruckner seventh arranged for nonet. Virtuosos every one, they give us immaculate performances of this rarely heard, highly engaging chamber music.
Beautifully recorded, the piano is faithfully captured and balanced against silky strings and airy winds across an ideally proportioned soundstage. Audiophiles will find this disc an ideal test of a sound system's instrumental imaging capabilities.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090730)
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Foote: Francesca…, Seren (stgs, 2 excs), 4 Character Pcs..., Ste (stgs); Schwartz/Seattle S [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Finally a modern day recording of some little known romantic orchestral music by an American composer who deserves much wider recognition! Arthur Foote (1853-1937) was born in Salem, Massachusetts and, except for a few lessons in France, was American trained. He studied at Harvard, where in 1875 he received the first MA degree in music ever awarded by an American university. His teacher was John Knowles Paine (1839-1906), who could also count such other budding American composers as John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951, see the newsletter of 30 April 2008), Louis Coerne (1870-1922, see the newsletter of 18 April 2006), Frederick Converse (1871-1940), Edward Burlingame Hill (1872-1960, see the newsletter of 18 April 2006) and Daniel Gregory Mason (1873-1953) among his students.
Except for some guest lecturing at the University of California in 1911, Foote spent most of his life in Boston at a time when other notable American composers, including Amy Beach (1867-1944), George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931), Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) and Horatio Parker (1863-1919) were also active there. Unlike the music of Parker's rebellious student Charles Ives (1874-1954, see the newsletters of 6, and 20 December 2006, 15 September 2007 and 3 July 2008), Foote's is firmly based on romantic European traditions in keeping with Brahms (1833-1897) and Dvorák (1841-1904).
The disc begins with his symphonic prologue Francesca da Rimini (1890), which owes more of a debt to Brahms than Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) similarly named tone poem of twenty-four years earlier. Some consider this one of Foote's finest orchestral achievements.
We hear next two excerpts from his Serenade for Strings (1866-91), which is a collection of five earlier pieces. The first selection is an air (1889) that takes it's cue from the corresponding movement of J.S. Bach's third orchestral suite. The second, a gavotte (1866), is more harmonically adventurous, and may bring to mind Dvorák's Slavonic Dances (1878-86).
But the pičce de résistance for us Footephiles on this release is the Four Character Pieces after the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (1900). Drawn from an earlier set of piano pieces, the opening number is a melodic gem with a mellifluous clarinet solo. This is followed by a selection with fast outer sections, again recalling the Slavonic Dances, that surround a lovely moderato inner one. The penultimate piece is a gorgeous lyrical outpouring which any of Europe's finest romantic composers would have been proud to have written. The finale begins with strummed harp passages ŕ la Vysehrad from Smetana's (1824-1884) Má vlast (1872-79). It provides a magical ending to this neglected masterpiece where the composer engages in a little Franckian cyclicity by making a big tune reference to the work's opening theme. When it comes to romantic American music, it would be hard to top this!
The disc closes with one of the composer's best known pieces, the Suite in E major for Strings (1907). While it's cast in the same mold as the string serenades of Dvorák, Elgar and Tchaikovsky written several years earlier, there's an element of rambunctiousness which seems all-American.
Once again we have conductor Gerard Schwarz and the Seattle Symphony to thank for rescuing some more exceptional American music from relative obscurity. Not only that, but they give what will probably be definitive performances of everything here for some time to come.
These recordings were made over a ten year period beginning in 1997, and everything sounds pretty good with only a slight hint of digital grain in the strings. The air, gavotte and suite were taped at a different location than the pieces for full orchestra, which probably explains why the soundstage seems a bit shallower for these string selections.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P090729)
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Holbrooke: Amontillado, Viking, 3 Blind Mice (sym vars), Ulalume; Griffiths/FrankBrandSt O [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Those liking the symphonic music of Sirs Edward Elgar (1857-1934, see the newsletters of 16 April 2007, 18 September 2007 and 15 March 2008 ), Hubert Parry (1848-1918, see the newsletter of 16 April 2007) and Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924, see the newsletters of 20 September 2006, 1 June 2007 and 30 August 2007) will love this disc of rare orchestral goodies by a lesser known compatriot of theirs, Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958). The son of an itinerant music hall pianist, he received his first lessons from his father, who realized his son's formidable musical talent, and eventually managed to send him to the Royal Academy of Music in 1893. It was there that Josef became acquainted with the highly programmatic music of Berlioz (1803-1869), Liszt (1811-1886) and Wagner (1813-1883), which would inspire the many literary-based symphonic creations he would soon pen.
The stories and poems of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) were particularly instrumental in getting Holbrooke's creative juices flowing. So much so that he composed over thirty-five works based on them, two of which, Amontillado and Ulalame, are included here. The former dates from 1936 and is billed as a dramatic overture, but it's more of a symphonic poem. Holbrooke's ability to capture musically the essence of Poe's claustrophobic tale "The Cask of the Amontillado" is exceptional.
Ulalume (1903), which the composer also referred to as the third of his orchestral poems, is an inspired piece of late romanticism depicting one of Poe's most dramatic poems. Highly chromatic and masterfully orchestrated, it effectively conveys the emotional state of a man who's grief-stricken over the death of his wife Ulalume. The music describes his wandering through some mysterious landscape while carrying on a dialogue with his own soul. Is that a variant of the "Dies Irae" [track-4, beginning at 05:55] we hear every now and then? Holbrooke is at his most progressive here, and creates a soundworld all his own. By the way, you may want to investigate a couple of his other “Popuses,” namely The Bells (1903) and The Raven (1900),
The second of his orchestral poems, The Viking (1899) is a magnificent late romantic bash that presages Erich Wolfgang Korngold's (1897-1957) silver screen seafaring epics (see the newsletter of 9 August 2007). After Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's (1807-1882) ballad "The Skeleton in Armour," the composer originally gave it the same title as the poem, and dedicated it to his good friend Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946, see the newsletter of 25 July 2007), who conducted the premičre in 1900. But shortly thereafter, Holbrooke revised and renamed it. A symphonic swashbuckler about the adventures of a Viking pirate and the beautiful princess he marries, it seems distantly related to Wagner's (1813-1883) Der fliegende Holländer (1843) and Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Francesca da Rimini (1876) [track-2, beginning at 06:08].
The disc is filled out with something on a much lighter note. Three Blind Mice (1900) is a set of twenty symphonic variations on the old familiar English children's song by that name. The variety of ideas Holbrooke comes up with is exceptional. Highlights include Elgarian fifth through ninth variations [track-2, beginning at 01:51], as well as Brahmsian tenth and eleventh ones [track-2, beginning at 03:15 and 03:50], with The British Grenadiers march (BG) appearing as a countermelody in the latter.
There's something almost "cygnetory" about the fourteenth variation [track-2, beginning at 06:01], while the sixteenth [track-2, beginning at 08:39] is a whirling dervish of a dance. Another extraneous tune, For he's a jolly good fellow (FH), appears in the merry hornpipe of an eighteenth variation [track-2, beginning at 11:12]. After that it's every man for himself, and the piece ends riotously with references to the main idea along with BG and FH. See the informative notes for a more detailed analysis of this symphonic "mousecapade."
We've sung the praises of English-born conductor Howard Griffiths before (see the newsletters of 20 December 2006, 15 March 2008 and 7 January 2009), and this release is certainly cause for more of the same! He whips the Frankfurt Brandenburg State Orchestra into a romantic frenzy perfectly suited to Holbrooke's flamboyant scores, while maintaining an air of humor in the whimsical variations.
Presenting an ideally proportioned virtual soundstage in a complementary venue, this CD is demonstration quality. The orchestral timbre is totally natural over the entire frequency spectrum, which includes some rock solid, exquisitely clear low bass. Take this one along on your next high-end shopping expedition.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090728)
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Ireland. J.: Pno Trios Cpte (3); 4 Vn & Pno Wks; Gould Pno Trio [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Following their recent outstanding release of chamber music by British composer John Ireland (1879-1962, see the newsletter of 15 April 2009), Naxos now gives us another containing his three extant piano trios as well as four occasional pieces for violin and piano. The composer's foray into the piano trio genre was somewhat problematic when you consider his first effort of 1897 was discarded and subsequently lost. Not only that, but the last trio is in part a reworking of one for clarinet, cello and piano, which he withdrew just after a couple of performances. Incidentally, those interested in the original version will find a reconstruction of it included on the previous Naxos disc.
The first of his surviving piano trios, dating from 1908 and entitled Phantasie Trio, is in a single, extended sonata form movement in four discernible sections. These comprise a melodically rich statement, beautifully structured development, forceful recapitulation and thrilling final coda.
Again in a single extended movement, the second trio of 1917 might best be described as a theme and metamorphoses where the initial idea undergoes a series of mood transformations. There's a pall over everything that undoubtedly reflects the composer's shock and grief over the slaughter then taking place on World War I battlefields (see the newsletter of 15 April 2008).
The third trio, completed in 1938, is in four movements and dedicated to William Walton (1902-1983). The mood here is somewhat brighter than it's predecessor, but there are moments when the specter of another looming world war seems to be in the composer's thoughts. The scherzo is totally infectious with one of those tunes you can't get out of your head. The version of it here with violin sounds rather folksy, whereas the original one with clarinet (see the opening paragraph) seems somewhat diabolical.
The CD is filled out with four pieces for violin and piano. The Berceuse (1902), Cavatina (1904) and Bagatelle (1911) are Edwardian salon pieces with a level of melodic invention worthy of Elgar (1857-1934). Originally the third of four piano preludes (1913-15), and having appeared in many different arrangements by the composer, The Holy Boy (1913) as configured here brings this appealing disc to a winsome conclusion.
The Gould Piano Trio with violinist Lucy Gould, cellist Alice Neary and Pianist Benjamin Frith play all of this music to perfection, successfully capturing the variety of moods represented. More specifically they endow the second trio with appropriate gravitas, while there's a delicate abandon about the way they handle the lighter pieces.
Silky string tone, well rounded piano sound and a perfectly focused soundstage in an ideal chamber music venue make this an audiophile selection. As far as romantic piano trios go you'd be hard-pressed to find a better sonic representation of one than this.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090727)
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Taneyev, S.: Ovs (3), Temple..., etc, Cant "Exegi…"; T.Sanderling/NovoSt PChC/NovoA SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Taneyev, S.: Conc Ste, Sym 4, Apollo's…, At the... (w Kastalsky); Svetlanov/USSR C&SO [Svet Fdn]
RECOMMENDED (4 CDs)
To date we've told you about several outstanding releases of Russian composer Sergei Taneyev's (1856-1915) music (see the newsletters of 16 January, 1 June, 11 July and 8 December 2007, as well as 7 January and 12 March 2009, just to name a few). And here are two more featuring some of his symphonic and vocal output. As a bonus there's also a real rarity in the form of what amounts to a requiem by his student Alexander Kastalsky (1856-1926).
The Naxos disc is a treasure-trove of rare Taneyev curiosities that include five of his youthful works composed before he turned twenty-six. The earliest of these, a lovely adagio for small orchestra and a tuneful overture (in D minor), date from 1875. They're highly accomplished student works that show the influence of his good friend and teacher Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The overture won him a gold medal in composition at the Moscow Conservatory, and in retrospect could be considered a harbinger of the four magnificent symphonies he would eventually produce.
The other three early works are his Cantata on Pushkin's "Exegi Monumentum" (1880), Overture on a Russian (Folk) Theme (1882) and Canzona for Clarinet and Strings (1883). Only lasting about five minutes, there's a depth of expression and sincerity about the cantata that belies the fact Taneyev was only twenty-four when he wrote it. The overture is a curiosity, considering Taneyev, unlike most other Russian composers of his time, seldom used folk material in his compositions. The theme, taken from a collection of one hundred Russian folk songs compiled by Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908), is subjected to a series of masterful manipulations. Some of these involve sophisticated counterpoint very much in keeping with Taneyev's reputation as Russia’s reigning expert in that discipline.
The disc is filled out with the overture and an entr'acte from his only opera Oresteia (1894). Like the opening of Simonsen's (1889-1947) Hellas Symphony (No. 2, 1921, see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), it's based on Aeschylus' surviving trilogy of tragedies, and is accordingly in three parts, "Agamemnon," "The Choephorae" and "The Eumenides." The overture, which was completed and premičred five years before the opera was finished, contains most of the major leitmotifs. It could be considered a twenty-minute tone poem synthesizing all the important elements of the stage work, and in that respect it's about as close to program music as this composer ever gets. It ranks with Taneyev's finest achievements, and represents a high point in Russian romantic symphonic literature.
The entr'acte, The Temple of Apollo at Delphi, introduces the second scene of "The Eumenides." It's five minutes of the most gorgeous Russian orchestral music you could ever hope to hear! Yes, there are Wagnerian overtones, but Slavic melodic elements are present, and there's some solo harp work that makes one wonder if Sergei knew Smetana's (1824-1884) Vysehrad from Má Vlast (1872-79).
Turning to the Svetlanov Foundation Album, you'll find an even more impassioned performance of this piece! Not only that, but it also contains magnificent renditions of two other orchestral works, the Concert Suite for Violin and Orchestra (1908-09) and his fourth symphony (1898). The suite is a highly demanding, extended violin concerto consisting of five colorful movements (see the newsletter of 12 March 2009). The four-movement symphony must rank as the composer's greatest orchestral achievement. Masterfully constructed opening and closing movements, which once again show what an incredible contrapuntist Taneyev was, "bookend" a drop-dead adagio and an infectiously impish scherzo.
But the star attractions here are two works for soloists, chorus and orchestra, each lasting about an hour. These are Taneyev's At the Reading of a Psalm (1915), which is the second of his large-scale religious cantatas (the first was John of Damascus of 1884), and Brotherly Prayer for the Dead by his student Alexander Kastalsky. The former is based on a religious poem by Aleksey Khomyakov (1804-1860), and set in three large movements divided into three sections each. Polyphonic choruses predominate, and the concluding fugue certainly qualifies Taneyev to be mentioned in the same breath as Johann Sebastian Bach!
Kastalsky is all but forgotten nowadays, but in his time he was much admired for his liturgical works. He taught Rachmaninov (1873-1943), whose sacred compositions were consequently greatly influenced by him. Written in 1916, Brotherly Prayer for the Dead is in fourteen parts. Like the Delius (1862-1934) Requiem (1913-16) and Foulds (1880-1939) World Requiem (1918-21, see the newsletter of 15 April 2008) it's a massive musical tribute to all who fell in World War I. A remarkable "choral orchestrator," Kastalsky incorporates a number of stylistic elements into it, including Anglican, Russian Orthodox and Serbian chant. The "Dies Irae" even makes its way into the third part, "Death and Life." The overall effect is striking, with sections that harken back to Mussorsgsky's (1839-1881) Boris Godunov (1874) and Scriabin's (1872-1915) first symphony (1899-1900). Russian music enthusiasts not already familiar with this should check it out!
The conductor on the Naxos disc is Thomas Sanderling, the son of Kurt Sanderling (b. 1912), who was one of the Leningrad (now known as St. Petersberg) Philharmonic Orchestra's greatest conductors. Tom certainly seems to be following in his father's footsteps because the performances he elicits from the Novosibirsk State Philharmonic Chamber Choir and Academic Symphony Orchestra are superb. A special round of applause should go to clarinetist Stanislav Jankovsky for his accomplished solo work in the Canzona.
Equally outstanding interpretations are the rule on the Svetlanov Foundation album featuring conductor Evgeny Svetlanov (1928-2002, see the newsletter of 3 July and 28 October 2008). Recorded between 1970 and 1990, the USSR Symphony Orchestra is featured in all the selections, and what its members may lack in technical ability and tonal finesse they certainly make up for with enthusiastic performances. Although the soloists in the two vocal works will be unfamiliar to most, their singing is totally committed. The same can be said for the Yurlov State and Radio Large Choirs, who appear in the Taneyev and Kastalsky, respectively.
The recordings on the Naxos CD are demonstration quality. The soundstage is perfectly appointed and in a warm acoustic. The orchestra is very natural sounding, and even the chorus in the cantata is quite lifelike, which is a rarity on conventional CDs.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of those in the Svetlanov Foundation album, but remember these are historical recordings! Everything is in stereo, and the orchestral selections were done in the studio, while the two choral ones were taken from 1977 live performances. Consequently you can expect less than ideal mike placement as well as occasional extraneous noise in the latter, and there is well-deserved applause after each. But as we've noted before, with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here.
In conclusion here's a suggestion for the ArkivMusik.com folks regarding Oresteia. How about doing one of your special ArkivCD reissues of the complete opera, which appeared on Deutsche Grammophon (3 stereo LPs) back in 1979. And while you're at it, you might also consider rereleasing Zakhari Paliashvili's opera Absalom and Etery, which was also on Deutsche Grammophon (3 stereo LPs), and came out about the same time.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y090726, P090725)
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