CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
10 MAY 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.
Berg, N.: Sym 3 "Makter", Reverenza, Hertiginnans... Ballet Ste; Rasilainen/Norrk SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
As we told you in the newsletter of 11 May 2009, Natanael Berg (1879-1957) was a Swedish military horse doctor turned composer. This second volume in CPO's ongoing series devoted to his symphonic works includes the third of his five symphonies, plus a celebratory overture-like piece, as well as a ballet suite. Unlike the Nordic sounding music of his associates Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974, see the newsletters of 30 March 2006, 18 April 2006, 30 June 2007), Oskar Lindberg (1887-1966) and Ture Rangström (1884-1947), you'll find Natanael’s more of German persuasion in keeping with his great admiration for Wagner (1813-1883) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949).
The program begins with the six-minute, ebullient Reverenza of 1949. Berg wrote this to celebrate the eightieth birthday of his friend, Finnish-born composer-conductor Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958), who championed much of his music. There's an arch romanticism tempered with a chromatic adventurousness that make this a memorable offering. It has one of those sudden fff two-chord endings Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) so loved.
The suite from the ballet Hertiginnans friare (The Suitors of the Duchess) dating from 1920-21 is next. According to the less than ideal album notes, it takes place in Spain, but there are dances of Italian and Polish persuasion which make this claim suspect. Also the track numbers given from this point on are wrong, so we've indicated the correct ones in brackets after each selection.
The work opens with a colorful Gypsy-flavored number [tracks-2] that’s followed by a serenade featuring a gorgeous cello solo [track-3], and tarantella [track-4] with references to that old Italian favorite "Funiculì, Funiculà" (see the newsletter of 31 October 2009). It closes with a charming Spanish dance [track-5] and majestic polonaise [track-6].
In 1916-17 Berg wrote a tone poem entitled Selbst ist der Mann! (Alone is Man!), which was actually performed shortly after its completion. Then in 1930 he began work on a companion piece for it, which he didn't finish until 1938. Put in tandem and renamed "Mannen" ("The Man") and "Kvinnan" ("The Woman"), they became his two-movement third symphony, which he subtitled "Makter," or "Forces."
The first movement [track-7] is a tempestuous testosterone-driven utterance that owes a great debt to one of the composer's idols, Richard Strauss. There are elements of Don Juan (1888) and Quixote (1896-97, see the newsletter of 11 June 2007) cleverly woven into a fateful Heldenleben tapestry (1897-98). The last couple of measures are somewhat similar to those which end Reverenza (see above).
The feminine finale is the exact opposite of the masculine opening. Grace and charm with even a hint of Glinda and her magic wand pervade this delicate offering, which ends the symphony on a reverential note.
As on his first volume of Berg's symphonic music (see the newsletter of 11 May 2009), conductor Ari Rasilainen gets committed performances of these pieces, but this time from the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra. He once again proves himself a champion of this forgotten composer.
From the standpoint of classical music that had been forgotten, these recordings are very welcome, but they won't win any audio awards. More specifically the soundstage suffers from "tunneling,” and complex passages are consequently congested. This is particularly true in the bass end, which comes off sounding rather rubbery.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100510)
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Gernsheim: Pno Qts 1 & 3; Kirpal/Diogenes Qt Members[Brilliant]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Gernsheim: Pno Qnts 1 & 2; Oganessian/Art Vio Qt [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
The ongoing revival of German composer Friedrich Gernsheim's (1839-1916) music (see the newsletters of 28 April 2007 and 21 December 2009) continues with these two recent releases. Although he was an associate of Brahms (1833-1897), and the older composer's influence is frequently apparent, there are melodic as well as harmonic subtleties present unique to Gernsheim.
The first and third of his three piano quartets as well as both of his piano quintets are included. Written between 1859 and 1896, all are in the usual four movements.
The earliest of these is the first quartet, which he began in 1859 while studying in Paris, but didn't complete until 1864 after his return to Germany. The opening allegro is for the most part energetic à la Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1857), but also has some lovely lyrical passages that would become a Gernsheim trademark. The following upward and onward scherzo as well as the attractive andante are both melodically memorable and beautifully constructed. There's something of Rossini (1792-1868) in the final allegro, which boils over with youthful enthusiasm.
Gernsheim lived in the Netherlands from 1874 to 1890, and it was there that he wrote the first piano quintet and third piano quartet. While both definitely owe a debt to Brahms, there's an ease and fluidity present that are Gernsheim traits.
The opening allegro of the quintet (1875-76) stands out for the wealth of thematic material present, and the composer's sophisticated development of it. A flowing andante is next, and then a dance-like vivace that's in essence a scherzo with smatterings of imitation. The concluding allegro begins with a fugal idea, which serves as an introduction while hinting at the lush big tune that follows. A rigorous development then ensues, and the quintet ends with exhilarating flights of melodic fancy, giving the performers a chance to show off their virtuosity.
The third quartet (1882-83) begins with a reserved allegro where there are graceful melodic solo passages typical of the composer, as well as dense tutti ones reminiscent of Brahms. The next allegro is a twitchy, haunted scherzo that's solely Gernsheim. It's followed by an andante which is in essence a lovely lullaby.
The unusual finale consists of a curious "ding-dong," bell-like theme with ten variations. These are most inventive, and followed by a coda that brings the quartet to a glorious close recalling the main idea with all its campanological associations.
The second quintet was finished in 1896 after the composer's return to Germany from Holland. The moderato first movement contrasts a dramatically pensive (DP) idea with a charming waltz tune. Following an accomplished development section, DP dominates the dynamic closing passages, ending the movement forcefully in shades of gray. The melancholy adagio that follows has a chromatic peripateticism smacking of Max Reger (1873-1916, see the newsletters of 15 and 30 March 2008).
The mercurial scherzo is thoroughly engaging with some flashy keyboard pyrotechnics. It anticipates the expansive finale, which the composer invests with a couple of his best melodies. These are played off against one another in dramatic fashion, and the quintet ends with a brilliant coda that may bring Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) youthful chamber efforts to mind.
The performances of the quartets by pianist Andreas Kirpal along with violinist Stefan Kirpal, violist Stephanie Krauß and cellist Stephen Ristau of the Munich-based Diogenes Quartet are superb. They play these delicacies with a sensitivity and lightness of touch that well make up for an occasional intonational anomaly.
The quintets receive enthusiastic but well-judged performances by Russian-trained pianist Edouard Oganessian with the Lithuanian-based Art Vio String Quartet. You'll find any intonational aberrations become insignificant in the context of this heartfelt music.
The quartet recordings are generally good across an ideal soundstage in a supportive acoustic. The piano tone is well rounded, and the strings quite natural sounding, but the latter would have benefitted from a tad more highlighting.
The quintets occupy a wider soundstage in a more reverberant venue. While the piano is a bit blurred compared to the one on the other disc, the strings are very musical with the overall instrumental balance more equitable.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100509, P100508)
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Ponnelle: Stg Qts 1 & 2, Stg Trio; Gémeaux Qt [Genuin]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born in Germany in 1957 to a mother and father well-known in film and opera circles, Pierre-Dominique Ponnelle majored in composition at Munich's Richard Strauss Conservatory. He then went on to study conducting under such greats as Otmar Suitner (1922-2010) and Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989).
To date Ponnelle has primarily been known as an outstanding conductor, who’s worked all over The Continent. However, he's also a gifted composer with something entirely new to say as evidenced by the chamber music on this release. Conservative listeners will find themselves challenged, but not blown out of the water, by his extremely imaginative creations. Progressive ones will revel in what’s here.
East meets West in his two intricately crafted string quartets, which date from 2005 and 2006 respectively. Both are in five movements lasting only a couple of minutes each, except for the hypnotic finale of the second, which clocks in at about eight.
The first quartet contains references to Bashkirian folk music, as well as that old familiar musical monogram B-A-C-H (Bb-A-C-B in English notation) [track-2, beginning at 00:060] so popular with many a European composer. With some well-judged special string effects (SSFX), including dissonances, glissandi, rubber band pizzicato, and an occasional slithering quarter-tone, this cleverly crafted piece is quite infectious.
Generally a bit more Western sounding that its predecessor, the second quartet is laced with folk melodies from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The demands made on the performers are substantial, and in several places require then to tap on the bodies of their instruments, thereby producing a variety of mesmerizing percussive sonorities. This plus some more inventive SSFX make for some ear-catching chamber music you'll not soon forget. Béla Bartók (1881-1945) would have loved it!
The CD concludes with the string trio of 2007, which is in four movements, and the most forward-looking work here. The composer tells us it's a commentary on the increasing social estrangement and loss of values being experienced by people today. This notion is ingeniously realized with passages where the cello and viola play above the violin. By inverting the instrumentation, the composer creates a sense of disorientation in the listener commensurate with the music's intended message.
Highlights include a cynical waltz in the second movement [track-12, beginning at 09:46], and a trick ending with a final interrogative note played on the cello's C string after some downward scordatura ("detuning") [track-14, beginning at 06:56]. As in the quartets there's a solidity of construction and discrete smattering of SSFX that make this piece something you'll be playing again and again.
Many may not be familiar with the relatively new Gémeaux Quartet based in Basle, Switzerland. But judging from their mind-blowing performances of these brilliant contemporary scores, it won't be long before they're mentioned in the same breath with today’s finest chamber ensembles. Their technical ability is only transcended by an incredible feel and sensitivity for these awesomely demanding scores. The Gémeaux jump in headfirst where others would fear to dip a toe!
Recorded in Germany almost a year ago, the performers are perfectly spaced across a generous soundstage in a nurturing acoustic. The disc is cut at a high level and the sound is bright, but it seems perfectly suited to this repertoire. As played by these remarkable musicians, Ponnelle's innovative music makes for a demonstration disc that should appeal to audiophiles as well as those looking for new intellectually stimulating chamber fare.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100507)
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Warren, E.R.: Crystal..., Legend..., Along..., Sym, Ste, etc; Corp/RScotNa O/Yates/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Dutton now turns their attention to the other side of the pond with this release of music by American composer Elinor Remick Warren (1900-1991), which includes a couple of world première (WP) recordings. An LA girl all of her life, she started her career in the 1920s as a concert pianist, and soon began writing songs with piano accompaniment as well as choral pieces.
By the early 1930s she was producing large scale orchestral works, and could claim the distinction of being the only U.S. woman composer writing neo-romantic music alongside the likes of Howard Hanson (1896-1981, see the newsletter of 1 June 2007), Roy Harris (1898-1979, see the newsletters of 20 December 2006 and 25 November 2008), Aaron Copland (1900-1990), Samuel Barber (1910-1981), and Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007, see the newsletter of 18 December 2008). A brilliant orchestrator from the start, she went on to further hone her talents in 1959 when she undertook three months of intensive study with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979).
The orchestral selections here highlight her most creative years from 1924 through 1970. The first is an eight minute tone poem, The Crystal Lake, which dates from 1946. Hearing this shimmering, delicately proportioned impression of a scene encountered during a hiking trip in the High Sierras, it's easy to understand why this was one of her most popular creations.
The next two pieces were originally for piano and later orchestrated in 1938. The earlier one, known initially as Frolic of the Elves, was written in 1924, and later renamed simply Scherzo (WP). This delightful ditty certainly bears comparison with the best British light music then coming from such composers as Haydn Wood (1882-1959) and Eric Coates (1886-1957, see the newsletter of 15 May 2008). The other, The Fountain (WP), which was composed in 1933, owes a great debt to Delius (1862-1934, see the newsletter of 29 September 2009), and could almost be a missing movement from his Florida Suite (1887-89).
Many consider Warren's choral symphony The Legend of King Arthur of 1939, based on Tennyson's (1809-1892) poem The Passing of Arthur, her most significant work. It's represented here by the intermezzo that opens the last part, and the concert aria, King Arthur's Farewell (WP), which she later synthesized from his two final monologues in the symphony.
The intermezzo is a striking orchestral evocation of a funeral barge carrying Arthur's remains to his last resting place. Dark and mournful, it brings to mind Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead. But the mood brightens with the stunning aria where Arthur expresses euphoric resignation about the afterlife. You may find it brings to mind Delius' Appalachia (1896).
The suite Along the Western Shore is based on three piano pieces written between 1941 and 1947 that Warren later orchestrated (1942-54). The opening section, "Dark Hills," is a somber twilight “soundscape” that's followed by the more optimistic "Nocturne. The rousing finale "Sea Rhapsody," like the first movement of Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) Sea Symphony (No. 1, 1903-09, revised 1923), was inspired by "Song for All Seas, All Ships" from Walt Whitman's (1819-1892) Leaves of Grass (1855).
Next up we have the Symphony in One Movement of 1970. In three connected sections, the opening one is animated and angular. A skillfully written transitional passage connects it with the relaxed lyrical central episode, which suddenly erupts into the dramatic finale. Impeccable construction and brilliant orchestration may well reflect Warren’s lessons with Nadia.
The program concludes with a suite for orchestra dating from 1954. In four subtitled movements this is more nature music (see the newsletter of 25 Aril 2010) once again inspired by the High Sierras. The composer tells us the opening "Black Cloud Horses" is a musical depiction of gathering storm clouds. And an apt one it is!
There's something cinematic about the soaring "Cloud Peaks" that makes one think Elinor would have given Max Steiner (1888-1971) and Alfred Newman (1900-1970) a run for their money had she written for the silver screen. The brilliantly scored final two movements, "Ballet of the Midsummer Sky" and "Pageant Across the Sky," conjure up more airborne fleecy images, and end this meteorological symphonic outing on a cumulonimbus high.
Composer-conductor Ronald Corp (b. 1951) and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra do the honors here except for Arthur's aria, which features baritone Roderick Williams with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Martin Yates. All of the performances are deeply felt, and even the lighter selections come off as much more than pops puff pastry.
All the recordings are well-focused and presented across magnificent soundstages in sonically nourishing venues. The orchestral timbre is quite natural sounding, except for massed violins, which are occasionally edgy. Mr. Williams' superb voice might have been shown off to better advantage with different miking.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100506)
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Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Vc Sons 1 & 2 (w pno), Vc Sons 1 & 3 (solo); Yablonsky/H-N. Liu [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
This is the fourth CD with music by Polish-born Mieczyslaw Weinberg (1919-1996) that we’ve recommended (see the newsletters of 13 August 2008, 21 December 2009 and 28 February 2010). Highly regarded by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975, see the newsletter of 28 February 2010), who was also a close friend, you'll find echoes him in the four cello sonatas included here. Three of them were written for Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007), who also greatly admired Weinberg.
Again a reminder concerning the confusion over the English spelling of the composer's name, which transliterated from Russian into the Latin alphabet becomes Moisey Vainberg, or even Vaynberg. Consequently, it's advisable to try all of these variants when searching for his music online.
The program begins with the earlier of his two sonatas for cello and piano. Written in 1945, it's in two movements, the first of which is lyrically wistful. There's a twitchy insistency about most of the finale that's reminiscent of Shostakovich. This is tempered with a demanding cadenza for the cello, and a subdued introspective ending.
Composed for Rostropovich in 1959, the renowned cellist certainly got his money's worth with the three-movement second sonata. An exceptional showpiece, the beginning moderato and andante are effectively legato arias that show off the cello’s proclivity to sound like the human voice. The final allegro is characterized by more Shostakovich-like figurations, and gives both performers a chance to strut their stuff.
The odd-numbered of Weinberg's four unaccompanied cello sonatas are next. They too were for Rostropovich, who apparently considered them a major contribution to the genre, ranking with J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) six cello suites (BWV 1007-1012). The three-movement first sonata (1960) is made up of a soaring adagio, jolly gigue-like central section, and snarling finale.
In four movements, the third sonata (1971) is a much more substantial undertaking that's not for beginners! A singing allegro with some colorful coloratura touches comes first, followed by a rhythmically angular allegretto, and melodically sinuous lento. It's easy to imagine the smell of smoldering horsehair in the frenetic bravura finale.
Dmitry Yablonsky has been praised in these pages on several occasions in his capacity as a conductor (see the newsletters of 30 March 2006, 1 November 2006, and 20 August 2009). But he began his career as a cellist, and must be counted among today’s best as anyone hearing this disc will discover. He's accompanied in the first two sonatas by pianist Hsin-Ni Liu, who makes an equally positive impression. She would have made an even greater one had she played with a little more expression. Both artists have technique to burn, but more importantly an affinity for these demanding pieces.
The recordings, which were made in 2007-08 at Studio 1 of the Russian State TV & Radio Company, Moscow, are excellent. With a soundstage appropriate to these diminutive forces, the cello tone is totally natural, and the piano sound well-rounded. While the piano is placed a tad left of center in the two accompanied sonatas, the cello remains somewhat right of center in all four. While a case could be made for having Mr. Yablonsky center stage for the solo sonatas, the overall sound remains demonstration quality regardless of his location. Besides, those with balance controls can correct accordingly.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100505)
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