CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
12 APRIL 2010
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.
Andriessen, H.: Vc Son, Vn Son, 3 Inventions (vn & vc), Pno Trio; AmstBridgEn [Cobra]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Netherlands-born Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981) began his career writing music reviews for a Haarlem newspaper, but by his early twenties decided to become a composer. He was a student and friend of Alphonse Diepenbrock (1862-1921), and had a great liking for French music as well as that of Anton Bruckner (1824-1896). Being an organist himself, Hendrik was particularly influenced by César Franck (1822-1890). He also admired Fauré (1845-1924), and knew Pierné (1863-1937, see the newsletters of 28 March 2007 and 11 July 2007), Roussel (1869-1937, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009), and Milhaud (1892-1974, see the newsletter of 17 February 2007).
The four chamber music selections on this CD span a thirteen-year period beginning with the four-movement sonata for cello and piano of 1926. This is a dark, meditative work out of Fauré and headed towards Roussel, but with a Germanic gravitas typical of Andriessen. The same is true of the three-movement violin sonata dating from 1932, but there are also bitonal elements smacking of Milhaud present here, as well as in the remaining two selections.
You’ll find the Three Inventions for violin and cello (1937) sequentially funereal, introspective and driven. The demands made on the soloists are considerable.
The three-movement piano trio of 1939 opens with a moving rhapsodic andante followed by a presto with plucky Brucknerian outer sections surrounding a central lament. The brooding finale may well reflect the troubled times that prevailed in Europe back then, eventually leading to the outbreak of World War II (1939-1945).
Our performing group here, the Amsterdam Bridge Ensemble, takes its name from British composer Frank Bridge (1879-1941). It was his chamber music along with that of his prize student Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) that was the inspiration for their formation. A class act, they give outstanding renditions of everything here.
The recordings are stunning and present an ideally proportioned soundstage in a rich but transparent acoustic. The instrumental timbre is totally natural and the balance, perfect. With exemplary piano sound, this is definitely a demonstration disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100412)
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Herrmann, B.: Hangover Sq (w Conc Macabre) & Citizen Kane Stes; Soloists/Gamba/BBC P [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
American composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975) is best known as the man who wrote the music for Robert Wise's (1914-2005) film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), as well as Alfred Hitchcock's (1899-1980) North by Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960). However, many movie buffs would argue his earlier scores for Orson Welles' (1915-1985) Citizen Kane (1941) and John Brahm's (1893-1982) Hangover Square (1945) surpass those.
With this most recent release from Chandos in their ongoing film score series (see the newsletters of 9 March 2006 and 15 June 2008), you can judge for yourself. Based on the original manuscripts, you'll hear Stephen Hogger's new arrangements of all the numbers Herrmann wrote for these two 1940s classics. As an added bonus the Concerto Macabre from the later film is also included. It's the performing edition Norma Shepherd did in 1992 based on the composer's revisions for concert performance of what’s in the movie.
After the phenomenal success of the motion picture Dangerous Moonlight (1941, not currently available on disc) with Richard Addinsell's (1904-1977) Warsaw Concerto, incorporating mini-concertos à la Rachmaninov (1873-1943) into films became a fad with movie studios during the 1940s. Twentieth Century Fox jumped on the bandwagon in 1945 with Hangover Square, which was loosely based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Patrick Hamilton (1904-1962).
The main character was changed from a psychotic alcoholic to a Jekyll-Hyde composer-concert-pianist, providing the occasion for a concerto, and Herrmann the opportunity to write one of his most romantic scores. Curiously enough the concerto he came up with may well be the only one that ends with a brooding piano solo instead of a dazzling display of symphonic fireworks.
During the 1930s Herrmann was with CBS Radio as conductor of their symphony orchestra. It was there he met Orson Welles, who asked him to write the music for Citizen Kane, which would be his first film score. It shows how skilled he was at musically dramatizing what's on screen, and went a long way to putting the movie on many critics' lists of the best ever made.
Based on a leitmotif scheme where fragments of the Dies Irae [track-5, beginning at 00:01 and more obviously 04:08] infect the whole score, the seven-part suite presented here holds together very well even without visuals. Thematic highlights include a melancholy recurring four-note "Rosebud" motif [track-5, beginning at 00:58], a boisterous circus-like galop [track-6, beginning at 00:01], an irreverent sarcastic polka [track-6, beginning at 03:19], and a raucous wedding march [track-8, beginning at 04:39] with inferences of the one in Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42) as well as the "Bridal Chorus" from Wagner's (1813-1883) Lohengrin (1850).
There's also Herrmann's histrionic aria from the fictitious opera Salammbô, which Kane produces for his second, would-be diva wife Susan Alexander. With a text taken from Jean Racine's (1639-1699) five-act tragedy Phèdre, and sung in the original French (see the album notes for English and German translations), it's a wonderful caricature of over-the-top romantic French opera.
In the movie it's meant to be far beyond Ms. Alexander's limited vocal abilities, and her performance of it smacks of Florence Foster Jenkins. But that's not the case on the CD where soprano Orla Boylan carries it off in grand fashion. Make sure you read the informative album notes for more details.
As on his previous film music releases for Chandos, British-born conductor Rumon Gamba gives us exemplary accounts of both scores. He elicits performances from the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra that bring out every detail in some of the most colorful cues ever conceived for the silver screen.
Pianist Martin Roscoe plays the concerto to perfection, and soprano Orla Boylan’s stunning rendition of the Salammbô aria hints at Herrmann's magnificent opera Wuthering Heights of forty years later (1982). With no complete version currently available on disc, for now you’ll just have to settle for a teaser excerpt!
The recordings are good across a soundstage that's expansive enough to handle those explosive Herrmann outbursts, but not so reverberant that it obscures the intricate instrumental detail of his quieter moments. While the orchestral timbre is very convincing on the low end with finely articulated deep bass, it's a bit grainy at the top. Mr. Roscoe's piano and Ms. Boylan's radiant voice might have been shown off to better advantage with different miking.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100411)
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Horovitz: Fant... (11 stgs), Ob Qt (ob & stg trio), Stg Qts 4 & 5; Daniel/Cardu En&Qt [Carducci]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A highly versatile composer, Viennese-born (1926), British-trained Joseph Horovitz has written many outstanding scores for the concert hall as well as stage and TV. Some will remember him as the irreverent creator of the hysterically funny Bournevita Cantata and Horrortorio that regaled audiences at the 1958 and 1961 Hoffnung Music Festivals. But the chamber music selections on this release find him in a much more serious frame of mind.
The program begins with his 1962 Fantasia on a Theme of Couperin for eleven strings (six violins in two groups, two violas, two cellos and bass). Based on the Passacaille from the eighth suite (ordre 8) in François Couperin's (1668-1733) second book of harpsichord pieces, it’s a chromatically itinerant theme and variations where the main idea doesn't appear in its original form until halfway through [track-1, beginning at 07:17]. You’ll find this piece a most ingeniously wrought, significant addition to the British string canon.
Completed in 1953, Horovitz' fourth string quartet is in three, slow-fast-slow movements. The opening one begins with a pensive fugato followed by a moody development section. The mischievous scherzo has thematic connections to the previous movement, as does the anxiety-ridden finale, which ends with a question mark.
A quartet for oboe and strings dating from 1957 is next. Although it's also in three movements, they follow a reverse fast-slow-fast scheme. There's a pastoral aspect to this music invoking images of sun-swept meadows and shepherds' pipes. The last movement has one of those totally infectious tunes that’s hard to get out of your head.
The program closes with Horovitz' fifth string quartet of 1969. Intense and dense, there's not a wasted note in this single movement, fifteen-minute offering. Highly chromatic and spiced with bitonality as well as waltz rhythms [track-8, beginning at 07:04 and 09:49], it parodies that steroidal late romantic German music (see the newsletter of 20 November 2006) which led to Schoenberg's (1874-1951) twelve-tone revolution.
There's also a clever reminder of the Nazi Anschluss (1938), which forced the composer to flee Austria for England, in the form of a quote from the "Horst Wessel Song" [track-8, beginning at 11:18]. But the SA soon goose-steps its way into infamy, and the quartet ends peacefully with an optimistic glow.
Technical ability to burn and youthful enthusiasm tempered with strong feelings for this music characterize our core group of performers here, the Carducci String Quartet. No wonder as of last count they'd won seven international chamber music competitions! With the assistance of an additional seven fine string players they give a high-strung performance of the Fantasia... that won't quit! And one would be hard pressed to find a better rendition of the oboe quartet with virtuoso soloist Nicholas Daniel.
The sonics are good from the soundstage standpoint, but the high end comes across as somewhat steely. The disc seems to be recorded at a rather high level, which might explain some of this. On the other hand, different microphones might have resulted in a more musical offering.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100410)
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Lajtha: Stg Qts Cpte V3 (6, 8 & 10); Auer Qt [Hung]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Not too long ago we recommended the first two volumes in Hungaroton's ongoing survey of Hungarian composer László Lajtha's (1892-1963) ten string quartets (see the newsletters of 13 August 2008), and the same goes for this third installment. With only the second quartet now unaccounted for, we can expect one final CD, hopefully in the not too distant future.
Lajtha was Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) closest associate, so it's not surprising to find similarities in their quartets, one of the major ones being the influence of Hungarian folk music. But, whereas Bartók borrowed almost exclusively from vocal folk material, Lajtha drew from instrumental. Consequently there are an abundance of rhythmic and harmonic verbunkos elements in the music of the latter. You'll also hear occasional hints of French impressionism in keeping with Lajtha's high regard for Ravel (1875-1937) and Debussy (1862-1918).
Like its immediate predecessor, the sixth quartet (1942) is a bit of an oddity because each of its four movements is an étude designed to teach the technical and aesthetic fine points of good quartet playing. The opening and closing ones are flighty scherzo-like exercises in articulation. The middle two are studies in legato and precision playing respectively. The former brings to mind the slow movements of Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets, and the latter, Albert Roussel's (1869-1937) more neoclassical chamber works (see the newsletter of 31 October 2009). In addition to its pedagogic value, one could consider this quartet an example of Hungarian Gebrauchsmusik similar to that of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) .
The eighth quartet of 1951 displays multiple personality traits. The outer of its four movements are playfully hyperactive, while the second suffers from depression and the third, obsessive-compulsiveness. But there's an overall lightness of touch that's a trademark of the composer, and adds great charm to this music.
Very much a unique Lajtha creation, he described his tenth quartet of 1953 as a "Transylvanian suite in three parts." It's based entirely on Hungarian folk dances, which the composer has taken considerable liberties with, thereby putting his own stylistic stamp on it.
The first of its three sections is dominated by a memorable swaggering verbunkos. The second features some mercurial tunes, which could almost be out of a Mendelssohn (1809-1847) scherzo, surrounding a reserved, attractively angular Magyar ditty. The finale begins with some slow, absolutely sumptuous Hungarian melodies. However, it soon catches fire with a pizzicato-spiced csárdás medley that ends the quartet in a virtuosic blaze of glory.
As on their two previous discs in this series, the Budapest-based Auer Quartet gives what must be definitive performances of these quartets. With impeccable technique and what must be an inbred feeling for this music, it's hard to imagine how these performances could be improved upon.
The recordings give well-focused accounts of these immaculate scores. The string tone is for the most part natural sounding except for some upper register edginess in forte passages. As was the case with the previous two releases, the Hungaroton studio where these recordings were made must have been rather small because the sound is pretty dry. One can't help feeling this delicate music would have bloomed a bit more in a wetter acoustic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100409)
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Nordgren, P.: Syms 7 & 8, Summer Music; Kangas/Turku PO [Alba]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The music of Finnish-born Pehr Henrik Nordgren (1944-2008) is exceptional because besides being intellectually challenging, it's also dramatically appealing. One way he accomplishes this is by using duodecaphony in a tonal harmonic framework. This assures his creations aren't just thought exercises, but remain listener friendly and emotionally satisfying. Brilliant orchestration, the use of Finnish folk material, and stylistic nods to other composers also make him one of the finest colorists of recent times.
This is certainly evident in his last two symphonies included here. The single-movement seventh of 2003 is an amazing structure that immediately grabs one's attention with its magmatic harmonically ambivalent opening. And what's that repeated four-note riff [track-1, beginning at 05:52] on the harp? It's a transposition of the "DSCH" (D-Eb-C-Bb) monogrammic motif frequently used by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), who was Nordgren's musical idol.
It acts as an idée fixe that unifies as well as divides the work into six sections [track-1, beginning at 05:51, 07:42, 10:27, 15:26 and 17:23], which might be considered connected movements (see the informative album notes for more details). The third of these is built on an antic Finnish folk polka [track-1, beginning at 09:12], and the fourth has some polytonal outbursts for full orchestra [track-1, beginning at 14:33] worthy of Charles Ives (1874-1954, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009). In the sixth there are references to a Japanese folk dance [track-1, beginning at 17:58], and an ersatz Andalusian melody by Gerhard Winkler (1906-1977) [track-1, beginning at 20:02]. Calm prevails towards the end, and the symphony ends reverentially with church bells tolling in the distance.
The three-movement eighth symphony dating from 2005-06 seems more extroverted than its predecessor. The opening movement subtitled "Minore," or in the minor, is a subdued mysterious offering with chronological associations manifested by persistent ticking motifs. Time seems frozen in the cool ethereal tiny intermezzo which follows. With a repeated descending three-note idea reminiscent of the tune for the old English nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice," it acts as a transition to the ebullient finale.
Marked "Maggiore," or in the major, it opens ponderously. Suddenly there's a hectic forte outburst, the last part of which calls to mind Aram Khachaturian's (1903-1978) "Sabre Dance" from his Gayaneh ballet (1942, revised 1952 and 1957). A couple of folk-inspired ideas follow, and are worked up into a bizarre, engaging choreographic climax, concluding the symphony in a state of manic jubilation.
The symphonies are separated by a lighter occasional piece, Summer Music of 1977, written while the composer was visiting Japan. It would seem folk music was a source of inspiration, but only from the stylistic standpoint as there are apparently no direct quotes. At one point the brass and particularly the horns are much in evidence, making it easy to imagine this could be a tone poem describing a pastoral scene with hunters passing by.
The Turku Philharmonic Orchestra under Juha Kangas certainly make a strong case for these dynamic scores. With music this intricate and animated, things could easily get out of hand, but with careful attention to detail and dynamics, Kangas keeps everything in perspective.
Calling for enormous orchestral forces with extensive percussion, this CD will test the limits of even the finest audio systems. The soundstage is immense, yet perfectly focused, and the orchestral timbre very convincing with just a hint of upper digital grain in fff passages. The bass is exceptional for its profundity and transient clarity. With these complex scores, Nordgren the colorist has gives us music that’s not only a challenge to performers, but recording engineers and audio equipment designers as well.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100408)
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Orff, C.: Mond, Der; Kluge, Die (cpte operas); Schwarzkopf/Prey/Hotter/Frick/Sawallisch/Pa C&O [EMI]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
Shortly after he wrote the ever popular Carmina Burana (1936), German composer Carl Orff (1895-1982) came up with the two delightfully zany one-act operas offered here. Der Mond (The Moon 1936-38) and Die Kluge (The Wise Woman, 1941-42) are both based on fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm collections (see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), and have librettos by the composer.
These were some of the first stereo recordings EMI ever made (1956-57), and remain legendary from both the performance and sound standpoints. Remastered on numerous occasions, this incarnation is the best yet, particularly as offered here at a "twofer" bargain price. Be advised there are no librettos, but brief plot synopses and detailed banding make it pretty easy to figure out what’s going on.
Incorporating popular songs and dance tunes as he did in Carmina..., these stage works have all the appeal of that masterpiece. Orff's off-the-wall orchestration calls for a huge percussion section, which it's easy to believe might well include a kitchen sink! In Der Mond, when St. Peter hurls a comet at some earthbound revelers, you won't believe what the EMI audio engineers came up with!
Conductor Wolfgang Sawallisch leads the Philharmonia Chorus, Children's Chorus and Orchestra along with an all-star cast that includes bass-baritone Hans Hotter (St. Peter) in Der Mond, and in Die Kluge, soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (The Wise Woman), bass Gottlob Frick (The Peasant), baritone Hermann Prey (Second Vagabond), and bass-baritone Gustav Neidlinger (Third Vagabond).
Along with those ancient London/Decca FFRR LPs, these recordings are audiophile classics.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100407)
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