CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
(CLOFO)
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS



21 DECEMBER 2009

CROCKS NEWSLETTER

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.



The album cover may not always appear.
Arnold, M.: Homage to... Ste, Rinaldo..., Sweeney Todd Ste, Electra; Gamba/BBC P [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A year ago we told you about a ballet, The Three Musketeers (2006), based on Sir Malcolm Arnold’s (1921-2006) symphonic concert works as arranged by British conductor John Longstaff (see the newsletter of 18 December 2008). Now here's some dance music by Sir Malcolm himself.

The first selection is a six-movement suite he extracted from his Homage to the Queen composed to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. This was his first ballet score, and memorable thematic material, catchy rhythms, and brilliant orchestration must have made it a choreographic sensation. The opening martial sequence smacks of William Walton's (1902-1983) "Crown Imperial" (1937) and "Orb and Sceptre" (1952-53) coronation marches, the later of the two having been written for the same occasion.

A delightfully fleeting "Dance of the Insects," lovely limpid "Water Pas de Trio," and flamboyant La valse-like "Fire Dance" follow, recalling Constant Lambert's (1905-1951) zodiacal Horoscope Ballet (1938). The suite closes with one of those big Arnold tunes reinforced by the organ, and the triumphant return of the opening march number.

The one act dance-drama Rinaldo and Armida of 1954 is next. In six connected episodes that run continuously, when heard and not seen it comes off like a twenty-minute tone poem. Unlike the celebratory piece we just heard, this is dark, tragic music about the ill-fated relationship between Christian Crusader knight Rinaldo and pagan enchantress Armida of Torquato Tasso's (1544-1595) poem La Gerusalemme liberata (1581).

In 1959 Arnold wrote music for several dance numbers in a British production of Sweeney Todd. Then in 1984 David Ellis with the help of the composer arranged the seven-movement concert suite that's next. It perfectly captures the delicate balance of horror and humor which coexists in this strange tale concerning "The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

A cinematically explosive score, it's darkly threatening one minute and a comical Keystone Cops one-reeler the next. By the way, your CD player isn't mistracking in the off-the-wall finale [track-19, beginning at 00:35 and 03:38]! It’s just Sir Malcolm having a little fun with his audience that also includes some wayward percussion and bird calls [track-19, beginning at 01:43]!

The 1963 one act ballet Elektra concludes this invaluable release. A recording premičre, it finds Arnold at his most progressive, and recalls the later of his nine symphonies. While pounding percussion frequently dominates the austere orchestration, there are brass and harp glissandos plus impressionistic as well as atonal effects that make this opus an expressionistic masterpiece. It may even remind you of Franz Schreker's more bizarre creations (see the newsletter of 20 November 2006).

We've sung conductor Rumon Gamba's praises before (see the newsletters of 1 June 2007, 15 June 2008, 15 April 2009 and 13 July 2009), and do so again with these performances he gets from the BBC Philharmonic. Depressingly brooding one minute and maniacally exuberant the next, there's a bipolar aspect to Arnold's symphonic music. Consequently it requires careful attention to dynamics and detail if its full emotional potential is to be realized. Gamba knows just how to do this, giving us readings that are supercharged, but at the same time not over the top.

Thanks to Sir Malcolm's Technicolor orchestration that includes some exotic percussion in addition to the organ, this release is a sonic showpiece. The orchestral timbre is totally natural with shimmering highs and seismic lows. The extended frequency and dynamic range of this disc will challenge the finest sound systems. Audiophiles liking Arnold's music won't want to be without this one! Had it been a hybrid release it might have easily qualified as one of the best sounding orchestral discs to appear in some time.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y091221)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Gernsheim: Pno Trios 1 & 2; Arensky Trio [Antes]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Records International buyer Jeff Joneikis has unearthed another disc of musical treasures containing two rarely heard piano trios by little known German composer Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916, see the newsletter of 28 April 2007). Although a significant contribution to the chamber canon, they languished in obscurity for years primarily because of the political climate in Germany following the composer's death. More specifically, being Jewish his music was played less and less frequently, and eventually banned under the German government's increasingly anti-Semitic policies. As you may remember from previous newsletters (see those of 15 April and 9 June 2009), that’s also exactly what happened to his fellow composer and Semite Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902).

Both trios are four-movement works that show the influence of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who was a lifelong friend of Gernsheim. The first dates from 1873, and begins with an eloquently flowing sonata form movement that's notable for its surpassing themes and solid construction.

The scherzo that follows has skipping, spirited outer sections, surrounding a brooding central episode which anticipates the pensive third movement. This is a largo with a tragic beginning and ending that parenthesize a comely light-hearted melody (LHM) [track-3, beginning at 02:50].

The confident, energetic final movement is a masterpiece of workmanship. The main idea will sound somewhat familiar because it's a derivative of LHM. And just before the end, Gernsheim introduces another gorgeous tune [track-4, beginning at 06:26], also related to LHM. This acts as a preface to the exciting virtuosic concluding coda, which puts the frosting on this scrumptious German chocolate cake. You'll definitely want another piece!

Less Brahmsian than its predecessor, the second trio (c. 1879) abounds in melodies, and is more like the chamber music young Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was turning out at the time. It begins with two attractive thematic ideas that underpin the opening sonata form movement. The moody developmental section is most ingenious. It sets the stage for a rather reserved recapitulation and brief, at times joyously agitated, final coda.

A rollicking scherzoesque movement with several memorable tunes is next, followed by a harmonically adventurous lacrimal lento. The work ends with an allegro that's a rousing rondo based on an infectiously cocky recurring theme. The composer again proves what a master craftsman he was by cutting it into bits and pieces with surgical precision and tossing them to the three instrumentalists. The tension builds, and is then released as he reassembles them in the thrilling final measures of this exceptional chamber music discovery.

After all these years of neglect, the Arensky Trio’s enthusiastic, totally dedicated performances of both works are most welcome. There are a couple of spots, particularly in the finale of the second trio, where violinist Helmut Haag's intonation would seem to be on shaky ground. But chances are you'll be so swept away by the music you won't even notice. If you like this disc you may also want to try the Arensky doing the piano trios of Gernsheim's compatriot Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900, see the newsletter of 30 April 2008).

The recordings are superb with the performers perfectly spaced and balanced across an appropriately proportioned soundstage. The venue is warm with just the right amount of reverberation to insure instrumental clarity without sounding desiccated. The strings are silky smooth and the piano well rounded. Audiophile romantic chamber music lovers will delight in this disc.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y091220)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com Records International


The album cover may not always appear.
Ives, C.: New England Holidays Sym (mvmts 2-4), General..., Ov, etc; Sinclair/Malmö ChC&SO [Naxos]
Conductor and Charles Ives (1874-1954) authority James Sinclair has given us a number of highly acclaimed CDs featuring Charlie's music (see the newsletter of 3 July 2008), including one with the first movement, "Washington's Birthday," from his New England Holidays Symphony (1909-14). The remaining three appear on this most recent of Sinclair's CDs along with a couple of other orchestral rarities recorded here for the first time.

The program begins with the symphony's second movement, "Decoration Day" (now known as Memorial Day). This is an Ives' masterpiece with all those stylistic quirks that for many of us make him the greatest American composer to yet come down the pike. It opens with a lovely laid-back impressionistic representation of morning, but hints of old familiar hymn tunes as well as "Taps" begin to emerge. Then a joyous full-fledged march breaks out, only to fade away as the movement ends reverently in memory of the fallen.

Ives scholar David G. Porter, who you may remember did a remarkable reconstruction of Charlie's Emerson Piano Concerto (1911), is represented here by his performing realizations of The General Slocum (1904) and Overture in G Minor (1899). These world premičre recordings are not to be missed.

The former work is named for a side-wheeler steamboat that caught fire in 1904, killing over a thousand people. Composed that same year to honor those who died, it opens quietly. Then with a blast from the ship's whistle one can picture revolving paddle wheels and a boatload of carefree passengers, singing such popular songs as "Daisy Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do," on an excursion around New York City. Suddenly with a drum roll and dissonant fiery forte passages, joy turns to panic as the ship bursts into flames. These quickly abate, and we're left with a pianissimo smoke bank drifting over the waters with hints of "Nearer, My God to Thee" (Bethany version). In the space of six minutes Ives says what would take many composers sixty!

The overture was written while Ives was a student at Yale College (1894-1898), and just as in his first two symphonies (1896-1901, see the newsletters of 6 and 20 December 2006), you'll find echoes of Brahms (1833-1897), Dvorák (1841-1904), Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), and Wagner (1813-1883). There are also occasional chromatic excursions, which must have shocked his conservative, German-trained professor, Horatio Parker (see the newsletters of 18 April 2006). Oddly enough one of the themes [track-3, beginning at 02:02] has a rhythmic signature that somewhat anticipates the opening of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) first symphony (1923-24).

The third movement of New England Holidays entitled "The Fourth of July" follows. It's another American masterpiece presented here in a stunning realization by Wayne Shirley, whom some will remember fondly as the imperturbable moderator of the 1950s radio program "Classical Round Table" (WHRB 95.3 FM, Cambridge, Massachusetts). With a subdued impressionistic opening, it works itself up into a pyrotechnical "polyrhythmitonal" frenzy. Then a couple of marching bands are heard playing snatches from "John Brown's Body," and of course "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" -- in and out of tune! As the music dies away, senior listeners will be left with melancholy memories of more innocent times.

Those who liked the recent movie Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2009) are going to love the next offering, Yale-Princeton Football Game, with our conductor James Sinclair acting as both coach and referee. It was inspired by the legendary 1897 game where the Yale quarterback intercepted a Princeton kick and ran 55 yards for a winning touchdown. Lasting only two and a half minutes, everything's here including the refs' whistle, cheering crowds, halftime bands, and maybe even suggestions of a little hip flask tippling.

The next selection, a postlude, was originally written for organ (1889-90) when Charlie was fifteen, and the organist at a church in Danbury, Connecticut. The version presented here was later done at Yale as an orchestration exercise, and what a magnificent job he did even if Wagner and Elgar (1857-1934) are much in evidence. Dynamite dynamics and imaginative instrumentation ensure this sumptuously romantic piece never outstays its welcome.

The concert ends with the fourth movement of the symphony, "Thanksgiving and Forefathers' Day." An earlier organ prelude and postlude were the foundation for this orchestral masterpiece. There's a structural complexity and density with frequent references to hymn tunes that make it the most profound work here. After a reverential opening, the pace accelerates like a speeding locomotive. It then slows revealing what might be a verdant meadow with church bells tolling in the distance.

A rustic dance breaks out, but quickly ends as pastoral peace once again prevails. However, ominous clouds soon roll in. Suddenly they part, revealing a burst of sunlight as the chorus joins the orchestra in the rousing Thanksgiving hymn "O God Beneath Thy Guiding Hand." As the singing concludes, the music slowly fades, ending with the sound of those far-off bells. If you know and love Charlie's fourth symphony (1910-16), you won’t want to be without this gem.

At the time of his death many of Ives' orchestral works existed only as disjointed, conflicting sketches. And it was only through the dedicated efforts of several American musicologists that we're now able to hear what Charlie might have finally come up with. In that regard we're very lucky to have as our conductor James Sinclair, who’s also executive editor of The Charles Ives Society, and has overseen the resuscitation of this music.

Taking all that into consideration, it's not surprising the performances Sinclair gets from the Malmö Symphony Orchestra, with a little help from the Malmö Chamber Choir in the final selection, are superb. Considering all the scholarship that went into the preparation of these performing versions, they'll probably remain the most definitive on disc for some time to come.

Done in 2007 and 2008 at the same location, all these recordings are agreeably homogeneous and spread across a wide soundstage. Impressive dynamics and an extended frequency range are engendered by Ives' imaginative scoring. The highs are for the most part listener friendly with only a hint of graininess. The bass, particularly that emanating from the percussion section, is deep but lingers. Bottom line, it's the music rather than the sound that makes this CD indispensable.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P091219)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Mendelssohn, F.: Pno Conc 3 (rlz M.B.), Sym 3 (1840 vers), etc; Prosseda/Chailly/LeipGew O [Decca]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
With a composer as popular as Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), you'd think everything he ever wrote would have been recorded by now. But that's not the case! This invaluable release from Decca contains three world premičre recordings, one of which is a performing realization of a piano concerto he never finished. The others are earlier versions of two beloved old favorites, the Scottish Symphony (No. 3, 1829-42), and The Hebrides or Fingal's Cave Overture (1830-32), originally known as the Overture to the Lonely Isle.

Conductor-composer Marcello Bufalini has done the classical music world a great service by constructing this performing version of what would have been Felix's third concerto for piano and orchestra. Dating from the 1840s, the sketches for the first movement are detailed enough to give a good idea of what the composer intended from both the solo as well as tutti standpoints. Unfortunately that's not the case with the remaining two. Those for the middle one only furnish a general outline of the melodic lines, while the finale exists solely as a seventeen bar fragment with a couple of thematic ideas. For more details, make sure you read the enlightening album notes about how all these bits and pieces were incorporated into the reconstruction.

Bufalini has assembled a very convincing work, and although he used earlier concertos as a guideline, this one is much less flighty and virtuosic. In fact there's a profundity akin to that in the Reformation Symphony (No. 5, c. 1840), and a melodic affinity with the ever popular violin concerto of 1844.

The opening allegro is most impressive and may bring to mind Robert Schumann's piano concerto (1841-45). The following andante is a melodic gem that could easily pass for a Song Without Words. As for the problematic third movement, Bufalini gives us a finale which is a full-blown rondo in the style of Mendelssohn. The recurring thematic material is derived from the scant seventeen bars of enticing ideas the composer left. A dusting of virtuosity is introduced to conclude this brilliant reconstruction in festive fashion, insuring you'll most likely play it again as soon as it ends!

The symphony and overture, which were inspired by Mendelssohn's trip to Scotland in 1829, sound significantly different here from what you're normally used to. In fact, many of us who got this release find there's a youthful enthusiasm and spontaneity that's a welcome change from what we've been hearing for years.

The symphony was begun as early as 1829 as evidenced by a fragmentary sketch for the first sixteen bars, which you'll find as a fascinating addendum [track-5, orchestration by Christian Voss]. But the version normally heard today was the result of many revisions, and not published until the winter of 1842. What we have here predates all this, and was performed at a Philharmonic Society concert in London the preceding summer. Rather than a tidy autograph, Mendelssohn left a disorganized rat's nest of sketches, so it took some intensive detective work on the part of musicologist Thomas Schmidt-Beste to determine what was actually played.

From the very beginning, it's a different animal! The slow first movement introduction is much more wistful sounding, but not for long as the music becomes increasingly impetuous, gaining terrific momentum. There are an additional twenty bars of new material, and you'll find another twenty-five that are differently orchestrated (see the album notes for more details) before the movement ends with what might well be a passing Highlands storm.

The following scherzo as done here is electric, and to these ears one of the most exciting symphonic movements to appear on disc in some time. Riccardo Chailly whips the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra into a complete frenzy. Just listen to the interplay between the woodwinds, horns and timpani -- wow! Having heard this you may never play another version again.

Except for interpretive differences the following adagio is much the same, but not the final allegro! There are another eighteen bars of new music in it as well as twenty-four that are differently scored. They impart a vigor and urgency in keeping with the fact that Mendelssohn was only twenty when he started the symphony.

That's particularly true of the final coda [track-4, beginning at 06:47], which must be one of the most thrilling in all romantic symphonic literature. Many who cut their teeth on the old monophonic LP of this with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic (1953, and not currently available on disc -- many thanks, Dennis Rooney, for making it possible to hear it again) will tell you there's never been another recording that could do justice to it. But this does, and it's in stereo to boot! Chailly and his Leipzigers play the Hades out of it, and milk that tiny diminuendo just before the end [track-4, beginning at 08:26] for everything it's worth.

We have conductor, Christopher Hogwood, to thank for editing the early 1830 Rome version of the overture. Originally titled Overture to the Lonely Isle, it's forty-three bars longer and underwent extensive revisions before it was finally published in 1832 as The Hebrides or Fingal's Cave.

The beginning will sound familiar, but after a couple of minutes the musical complexion changes radically from what you're familiar with today. There are dramatic outbursts from the orchestra that could almost be from some undiscovered Mendelssohn symphony, and insistent rhythmic patterns rather like those found in the fast movements of Schubert's late symphonies. These gradually subside into a peaceful interlude, after which the overture ends on more familiar ground. But most listeners will find enough differences to make them feel they've discovered a new piece of Mendelssohn.

From what's been said you've undoubtedly surmised these performances by conductor Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra are terrific. This also applies to the soloist here, musicologist and pianist Robert Prosseda. We're not only indebted to him for previous recordings of Mendelssohn's unknown solo piano music, but prevailing upon Signore Bufalini to do the concerto reconstruction.

The album notes say these were live recordings, but you'd never guess it except for a couple of places where even a pointy eared pooch would have a hard time telling. The audience must have been absolutely enthralled with these stunning performances because they're quiet as a mouse. That and a few touch-up takes to eliminate applause, along with some clever miking and editing must have been involved.

Speaking of miking, in live situations like this there's good and bad news. The good: audience background noise is minimized the closer and more selectively the orchestra is miked. The bad: this compresses the soundstage, making for dry sonics in even the most reverberant halls. But the Decca engineers have achieved an ideal compromise, and while this may not rank as an audiophile demonstration disc, it comes darn close!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P091218)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Still, W.G.: Sym 4 "Autochthonous", Sym 5 "Western Hemisphere", Poem; Jeter/FortSm S [Naxos]
One of America's foremost Black composers, William Grant Still (1895-1978) is probably best remembered for his Afro-American Symphony (No. 1, 1930). While the three symphonic selections here may not have the depth of Ives (1874-1954, see the recommendation above) or Copland (1900-1990), he was an accomplished melodist, arranger and orchestrator whose creations are instantly approachable. Listening to these world premičre recordings you'll find echoes of other American composers such as Arthur Foote (1853-1937, see the newsletter of 31 July 2009), George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931), with whom William studied, John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951, see the newsletter of 18 April 2006) and Howard Hanson (1896-1981).

Our program begins with the last of Still's five symphonies, which bears the grandiose title "Western Hemisphere" (see the album notes for an explanation of it). Originally written in 1945, it first appeared as his third symphony, which he soon withdrew, later replacing it with entirely different music (not currently available on disc). But not one to waste his creative efforts, in 1970 he revised what he'd discarded, issuing it as his four-movement fifth symphony.

There's a compelling urgency about the opening movement that immediately draws the listener in. The slow one that follows could well be a musical portrait of some tropical paradise, while the mechanistic energetic third evokes images of whirling gears and reciprocating pistons. The richly orchestrated finale takes the form of a rondo. It has a magnificent recurring theme that gradually attains big tune status, ending the work with great optimism.

A product of the World War II years, the Poem for Orchestra was completed in 1944. It ranks as one of Still's finest symphonic works, and would seem to have as its underlying concept the time-honored idea of "from darkness into light." The troubled opening paints a picture of a war-ravaged land and incites feelings of despair. As the music progresses the mood becomes more hopeful with the introduction of another outstanding Still melody. This builds to a radiant climax, but the work ends on an ambivalent chord which may reflect apprehension about the future.

The disc concludes with Still’s fourth symphony entitled "Autochthonous." The subtitle literally means aboriginal or indigenous, and the composer says its intent here is to connote the spirit of the American people. Completed in 1947, it's also in four movements, each representing different aspects of American society.

The robust opening supposedly celebrates US industriousness. But quite honestly with its references to Native American melodies and rhythms it sounds more like a paean to the Old West (see the newsletter of 27 November 2009). The following slow movement begins and ends pensively with a central episode that sounds more in keeping with that industriousness mentioned before. The next section is a jazzy toe-tapping number, and one of the high points of this release. Hearing it you can easily understand why Paul Whiteman (1890-1967, see the newsletter of 13 August 2008) hired William Grant as one of his arrangers.

The finale starts reverentially with an opening theme vaguely reminiscent of one in the first movement of Hanson's Romantic Symphony (No. 2, 1930). The tempo soon accelerates with some busy music containing a catchy little riff [track-9, beginning at 03:35] which will infect the rest of the symphony -- try singing "I wish I had a dog" to it! The Indians from the first movement then make a final appearance, and the work ends in celestial triumph -- chimes and all – as the Hanson idea returns.

The Grosse Fuge (1826) this music is not! On the contrary, there’s a "Pops" simplicity and directness that give it immediate appeal, but in the wrong hands can also turn it into some pretty mundane stuff. Fortunately that's not the case here thanks to conductor John Jeter's careful attention to dynamic, rhythmic, and orchestral detail. He coaxes superb playing from the Arkansas Fort Smith Symphony, whose members account themselves extremely well. They are definitely a class act, and you'll find their committed performances make this music all the more enjoyable with repeated listening.

These are very musical sounding recordings across a convincing soundstage in a warm acoustic. The instrumental tone is quite natural except for the extreme low end, which could be a bit cleaner, particularly when the bass drum makes its appearance.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P091217)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnline.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Stg Qts Cpte V3 (6, 8 & 15); Danel Qt [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, composer Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996, see the newsletter of 13 August 2008) fled his native country for what was then the Soviet Union. It was there that he would spend the rest of his life, becoming one of Dmitri Shostakovich's (1906-1975) favorite pupils. Like his mentor he wrote a number of symphonies (twenty-six) and string quartets (seventeen), many of which give his teacher a run for his money.

That's particularly true of the three quartets on this third volume in the Danel Quartet's ongoing survey of them for CPO. It includes the sixth, which many consider his finest, and with a projected five or six CDs in the completed series, this is probably the disc for those having only one!

The sixth quartet was completed in 1946 only to be banned two years later in conjunction with the "Anti-formalist" campaign waged by Andrei Zhdanov (1896-1948). In fact it would have to wait until 2007 for its world premičre by our performing artists here. Granted it was very modern-sounding for its time, pointing the way towards Dmitri's fourth (1949) and fifth (1952) quartets, but for today's audiences it's an approachable, forward-looking masterpiece that's not been heard from for far too long.

In six instead of the usual four movements, the opening allegro is alternately agitated and tentative. One minute it’s like Shostakovich in one of his more twitchy moods, and the next it’s as wispy as a cirrus-swept sky. There are hints of klezmer music before the movement ends quietly with some pizzicato zits.

The following presto is hyper, giving the performers a chance to show their technical skills. The next allegro, which must be one of the shortest on record, is searching, recalling Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets (1823-26). It sets the stage for an introverted, contrapuntal adagio that slowly vaporizes into nothingness.

The concluding two movements are a moderato and andante. Prokofiev (1891-1953) would have loved the former, which features some colorful col legno effects. The latter is an emotional, singular Weinberg utterance that puts this work in the masterpiece category.

With his sixth quartet having been buried by Stalinist cultural repression, it would be ten years before Weinberg would revisit the genre. And so the eighth, dedicated to the famed Borodin Quartet, wasn't completed until 1959. It's in a single span that might be likened to an extended sonata form movement. The introductory statement consists of two contrasting thematic groups; one solemn and funereal [track-7, beginning at 00:00], the other sprightly and somewhat Klezmer-like [track-7, beginning at 08:02]. Ideas from the two are then tossed up into a developmental Caesar salad that would have turned Shostakovich romaine-green with envy. The quartet concludes peacefully as former motifs are quietly recapitulated and vanish into thin air.

Consisting of nine movements with only metronome markings, the fifteenth quartet of 1980 is the most experimental of the lot. Bartók (1881-1945) enthusiasts will love it! All four strings remain muted for the first three movements. The opening two are sublime for their subtlety and understatement, while there's a phantasmal queasiness about the third that makes it uniquely Weinberg.

The mutes come off for the aggressive polyrhythmic fourth, and waspish canonical fifth movements. The overriding theme for the former recalls the big tune in the finale of Dmitri's Leningrad Symphony (No. 7, 1941). The buzzing rhythmic motifs dominating the latter conjure up images of a hornet's nest.

The sixth and seventh are both forceful and driven, but the mutes return for the pathos-filled final two movements. Although the eighth begins with a prickly fff pizzicato-spiked idea, the music soon turns pensively introspective. It becomes even more so in the concluding ninth, which flickers out like a dying campfire. Do you suppose the composer had some dreadful war experience in mind when he wrote it?

The Danel Quartet was formed in 1991 and apprenticed under the legendary Amadeus. It has since become one of today's finest, specializing in outstanding lesser known repertoire, which heretofore has included chamber music by Ernst Toch (1887-1964, see the newsletter of 20 May 2006) and Ahmed Adnan Saygun (1907-1991). But Russian music is one of its specialties, and particularly that of Mieczyslaw Weinberg. Their commitment to this Polish expatriate is borne out by these spectacular performances as well as those on two preceding volumes for CPO (777313 and 777392). Bring on the rest!

Spread over a modest soundstage, the recordings are superb. There's just enough reverberation to allow the music Lebensraum without masking any of its subtle detail. Over and above their remarkable technical abilities, the Danel boys produce an amazingly rich ensemble sound. CPO's audio engineers have faithfully captured it in "Living Color" on this CD, which is a boon to modern music lovers and audiophiles alike.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y091216)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com hbdirect.com


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