CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 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.
Elgar: Fringes..., Elegy... (w Ansell, German, Ireland & Wood); 4 Barits/Higgins/Guildf PO [SOMM]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This thoroughly entertaining CD features British music hall and light orchestral fare dating from the first half of the twentieth century, and for the most part inspired by the sea (see the newsletter of 20 September 2006). Many of the nine songs (seven with orchestral accompaniment) and five short symphonic pieces on the program make their world première appearance on disc (WPD). Texts for all of the vocal selections will be found in the informative album notes.
The concert opens with John Ansell's (1874-1948) rousing Overture: Plymouth Hoe (1914). A magnificent bouillabaisse of hearty seafaring melodies, it ends with a brief reference to "Rule Britannia" (see the newsletter of 18 February 2009.
Next, the first professional recording in ninety-two years of Sir Edward Elgar's (1857-1934, see the newsletter of 16 April 2007) 1917 song cycle Fringes of the Fleet for four baritones and orchestra (WPD). We have Tom Higgins, our conductor here, to thank for this version, which is based on the composer's manuscripts and 1917 recordings of it.
The first four of the five songs are settings of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) poems arranged for voice and orchestra. The fifth is a cappella with words from a poem by Sir Gilbert Parker (1862-1932). Originally staged with the soloists in costume and a backdrop showing a pub next to the seashore, it became extremely popular. When you hear it you'll understand why.
As an encore we're treated to Elgar's 1918 setting of Kipling's poem Big Steamers. This arrangement for four unaccompanied baritones is also the work of Maestro Higgins (WPD).
With texts by the World War I (1914-18) English soldier-poet Rupert Brooke (1887-1915), two songs of John Ireland (1879-1962, see the newsletters of 12 March 2009 and 31 July 2009) follow. Written in 1917-18, the versions for solo baritone and orchestra on this CD are once again by our conductor (WPD).
Next up, two orchestral interludes in the form of Elgar's Elegy for Strings (1909) and Haydn Wood's (1882-1959) A Manx Overture -- The Isle of Mountains and Glens (1936, WPD). They couldn't be more different, with the former a somber funereal remembrance, and the latter a big tune-swept Isle of Man "musicscape."
A different setting of Big Steamers by Sir Edward German (1862-1936) dating from 1911 follows. Done here in another arrangement for solo baritone and orchestra by conductor Higgins (WPD), you'll find it's much more of a music hall number than the Elgar above.
The program closes with two more orchestral miniatures from composers we've already met. The first of these is John Ansell's Windjammer Overture (1930s), which is a British light delight worthy of Eric Coates (1886-1957, see the newsletter of 15 May 2008). There are colorful references to the folk melody "Oh Shenandoah" (or "Across the Wide Missouri") and sea shanty, "Blow the Man down" (see the newsletter of 15 January 2010).
The second is Haydn Wood's March: Elizabeth of England (WPD) composed for Elizabeth II's 1953 coronation. With all the pomp and circumstance we've come to expect from British composers writing for regal ceremonies, it concludes this outstanding disc in resplendent fashion.
Baritones Roderick Williams (see the newsletter of 10 May 2010), Nicholas Lester, Duncan Rock and Laurence Meikle are in fine voice, and give stunning accounts of all the songs. Mr. Williams is particularly outstanding as the vocalist in each of solo numbers. The Guilford Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Tom Higgins provides excellent support for the singers in the accompanied songs, and delivers stirring renditions of the orchestral selections.
The recordings are bright and clear across an expansive soundstage in the very reverberant acoustic of All Hallows Church, London. The voice quality is good for a conventional CD, and the orchestral timbre natural, but with a bit of twinkle at the top. Occasional strokes on the bass drum [tracks-2 and 13] make for a profound low end. Bass freaks will love it!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100531)
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Godard, B.: Pno Trios Cpte (2), Jocelyn Berceuse... (arr pno trio); Parnas Trio [MD&G]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
A couple of years ago we recommended a CD with orchestral music by French-born Benjamin Godard (1849-1895, see the newsletter of 30 April 2008), and here's another equally desirable one featuring his two piano trios. While many think of him as just a writer of short salon pieces, these finely crafted, four-movement, melodically memorable chamber works show he was a talented composer on a much larger scale. He disliked Richard Wagner (1813-1883), particularly for his anti-Semitism, and consequently it's Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see the newsletters of 27 February 2008 and 21 December 2009) and Robert Schumann (1810-1856) whose presence is felt in these pieces.
The first trio dating from 1880 is generally the darker of the two. The opening allegro is alternately anxiety-ridden and wistful. The next movement labeled tempo di minuetto is really a scherzo. It consists of an opening and closing built on an antsy angular theme à la Schumann, that surround a central solemn hymn-like episode with Slavic overtones. The romantic andante is an assignation for the violin and cello with the piano standing guard. Cyclic principles dominate the final allegro, whose motifs are derived from and recall previous thematic ideas.
Written four years later in 1884, the second trio's opening allegro is notable for its endearing spun out melodies, moving moments of introspection, and spectacular concluding coda. The lyrically inspired adagio is optimistic except for some passing clouds of doubt. It contrasts nicely with the following vivace, whose opening and closing are based on a chirpy little tune bracketing a slower lovelorn melody.
The final allegro begins with a catchy skittering theme (CS) in a minor key that may bring to mind the first of Brahms' (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances (1852-69). A couple of flowing ideas related to CS soon follow, and are chased around by it in rondo fashion. A thrilling coda in the major based on CS concludes this brilliantly constructed trio, which proves Godard was much more than just a salon music composer.
The program concludes with a brief encore, the berceuse from Jocelyn (1888), which was the fourth of Godard's eight operas (none currently available on disc). By far his most popular creation, it's one of those pieces that’s so familiar no one can remember who wrote it. The piano trio arrangement of it here is particularly effective in bringing out all its melodic subtleties without turning it into a romantic wallow. It's the perfect ending to a memorable chamber concert!
This music couldn't have better advocates than the Parnassus Trio. Their playing is youthfully enthusiastic in the more animated passages, and exceptionally sensitive in slower, more romantic ones.
The recordings are excellent with silky strings and a well-rounded piano tone. While some may wish the soundstage projected were a little wider, most will find it adequate for an ensemble this size. Chamber music fans will be delighted, and any audiophiles among them won’t be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100530)
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Hakim: Org Concs 1 & 3, Påskeblomst (stgs), etc; Lehtola/Komulainen/StMich StgO [Alba (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1955 Naji Hakim moved to France in 1975, where he initially got a degree in engineering. But music was his first love, and he soon began studies with the great French organist-composer Jean Langlais (1907-1991) at the Paris Conservatory, where he won seven first prizes in a variety of musical disciplines. It follows that Hakim is not only an accomplished performer, who would later succeed Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, see the newsletter of 16 June 2006) as organist at Église de la Sainte-Trinité, but a highly gifted composer. And you'll find all of the selections on this new Alba hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release devoted to his music, refreshingly vibrant and thoroughly engaging.
The program begins with the ten-part suite for strings, Påskeblomst (Easter Flower), which takes the form of a theme followed by nine variations. The main idea is based on the melody for a chorale written by Carl Nielsen (1865-1931, see the newsletter of 28 March 2010) in 1910. Highlights include an ethereal first variation, and a dramatically intense second and third that may bring to mind Bernard Herrmann's (1911-1975, see the newsletter of 12 April 2010) suite for strings drawn from his film score for Psycho (1960). Påskeblomst ends with a mercurial eighth, melancholy ninth, and chugging tenth variation suggestive of a speeding locomotive. Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) would have loved it!
The first of the four organ concertos Naji's written to date follows. Completed in 1988, it's with string orchestra, and in the usual three movements. The opening vivace features a delightfully cheeky organ part played only on the manuals. The following andante is spiced with Gregorian tidbits as well as occasional impressionistic exchanges between the organ and strings. The toccata-like finale is a whirling rondo that chases its own tail and ends with a sudden lupine snap.
A work for solo organ, Esquisses Grégoriennes (2006), is next. Following in the footsteps of Tournemire (1870-1939, see the newsletter of 7 February 2007) and Langlais, its five sequential paraphrases, or free arrangements, of differing Gregorian melodies. Taken together they form a suite, which can also be regarded as an organ mass where they correspond to the introit, offertory, elevation, communion and closing music. The last Esquisse is one of those pyrotechnic toccatas the French excel at. Imaginative registration makes it a showpiece for the articulate Paschen instrument featured here, which organ cognoscenti may find reminds them of Aristide Cavaillé-Coll's (1811-1899) creations.
The concert closes with the totally infectious third organ concerto of 2003. Also calling for string accompaniment and in three movements, many will find a folksy informality about it reminiscent of Francis Poulenc's (1899-1963) Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani (1938). There's a carnival air and tuneful irreverence about the opening allegro, which has strange oblique references to the old familiar 1856 Bethany tune for "Nearer, My God, to Thee."
The moderato is a theme apparently based on a Maronite Church melody followed by a series of ingenious textural variations created with some imaginative string scoring, and a number of colorful organ stops. A dissonant final chord throws the listener totally off guard for the childlike finale which follows. There's a nursery rhyme innocence and naiveté about its thematic material that's a stroke of genius, making for a concerto you'll not soon forget. Bravo, Naji!
Our talented soloist is Finnish organist Jan Lehtola. He's not only technically proficient, but comes up with insightful registrations that complement Hakim's zesty scores. The St. Michel Strings under conductor Petri Komulainen provide ideal support in the concertos, and give a stirring account of the suite. With only a dozen players, you'll find it hard to believe they can produce such a lush string sound.
Recorded at the Juva Church in Finland, all three play modes on this hybrid disc present both soloist and strings across a wide, highly reverberant soundstage. The instrumental timbre is generally quite natural with maybe a hint of digital grain in the top end, and the strings are a bit silkier on the SACD stereo track. The multichannel mode will put you in the center of the nave where you'll fully experience the church's four-second reverberation. Audiophiles liking a brighter, wetter presentation will find this demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100529)
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Herzogenberg, H. von: Vn Conc, "Odysseus" Sym; Wallin/Beermann/SaarbKaisGer RP [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
In the past we recommended two CDs of Austrian-born Heinrich von Herzogenberg's chamber music (1843-1900, see the newsletters of 30 April 2008 and 15 April 2009), and here's an equally desirable third with world première recordings of two orchestral selections by him. Trained in both Austria and Germany, Heinrich initially greatly admired Richard Wagner (1813-1883) up until the mid-1870s when he met Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), and fell heavily under his spell. The works featured here are particularly interesting from that standpoint because each reflects one of these disparate influences.
The three-movement violin concerto dating from 1889 falls into the Brahms camp, and is a neglected work if there ever was one! Written for violin virtuoso Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), and significantly revised in accordance with his suggestions, the piece was never played during the composer's lifetime. It wasn't until 2008 that it received its first public performance thanks to the efforts of the International Herzogenberg Society.
There's a Latin fluidity (see the newsletter of 15 January 2008) about the thematic material in the opening allegro that's most appealing. We have our soloist, Ulf Wallin, to thank for the thrilling cadenza just before the movement ends.
The stamp of Brahms, particularly the last movement of his first symphony (1855-76), is also on the melancholy andante that follows. A mournful central idea sung by the violin is accented by strokes on the timpani and pizzicato passages for the strings, making this a dramatic heartfelt movement.
The final sonata-rondo features a couple of catchy tunes which Herzogenberg manipulates with consummate skill, giving the soloist a chance to display his talents. The somber mood of the preceding movement returns at a couple points, but the concerto ends on a happy note.
Inspired by Homer's epic poem, Odysseus of 1872 is a series of four programmatic tone poems that taken together form a symphony. Wagner's influence is obvious from the start in the opening "Wanderings" movement, which calls to mind some of the orchestral episodes in Die Walküre (1854-56).
The next section, "Penelope," qualifies as the symphony's slow movement, and is one of the most beautiful orchestral creations Herzogenberg ever came up with. It's a highly romantic musical characterization of the faithful love and devotion she maintained for her husband during his twenty years of wandering.
The scherzo-like "Gardens of Circe" that follows couldn't be more different. It’s a mercurial offering that paints a convincing portrait of that wily sorceress in Greek mythology who turned visitors to her island of Aeaea into animals. Listen carefully and you'll detect similarities to the more mythic moments in Das Rheingold (1853-54).
The animated grand finale, "Feast of the Suitors," brings to mind some of the darker orchestral passages in Wagner's Die Meistersinger (1867), and proves that at this early stage in his career Herzogenberg could write extremely effective program music. He paints a vivid musical picture of the last drunken orgy of Penelope's suitors, and their demise at the hands of Odysseus following his triumphant return to Ithaca and the welcoming arms of his adoring wife.
If you find this symphony appealing and haven't done so already, you might want to investigate German composer Ernst Boehe's (1880-1938) four part symphonic cycle From Odysseus' Voyages (1903-05), also available on CPO (999875 and 999908).
Violinist Ulf Wallin (see the newsletter of 18 April 2006) is superb in the concerto, and makes a strong case for adventurous conductors giving serious thought to programming it instead of the usual Brahms. The accompaniment provided by the Saarbrücken Kaiserlautern German Radio Philharmonic under conductor Frank Beermann (see the newsletter of 15 January 2010) is totally committed and sympathetic, as is their reading of the symphony.
The recordings are excellent and present a broad appropriately deep soundstage in pleasantly reverberant surroundings. The solo violin is perfectly captured and balanced against the large orchestra. The instrumental timbre is bright but remains musical over the extended frequency and dynamic range engendered by these lush scores. Romanticist and audiophiles alike will want this release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100528)
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Panufnik, A.: Orch Wks V1 (Tragic Ov, Nocturne, Heroic Ov, Katyn..., etc); Borowicz/Pol RSO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Having spent the World War II years (1939-1945) in his native Poland, composer Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991) underwent many hardships. These included the destruction of everything he'd composed up through 1944, when the Germans crushed the Warsaw Uprising of that year. And to add insult to injury, from 1948 until 1954, when England granted him political asylum, he had to endure Soviet repression of his works, resulting from the infamous "Anti-formalist" campaign of Andrei Zhdanov (1896-1948, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009).
Of late romantic persuasion, Panufnik writes highly emotional, tonal music completely devoid of any dodecaphony. Stylistically speaking he likes to use three or four note cellular motifs, which he builds into monolithic harmonic structures. In the process he shuns melodic counterpoint in favor of polyrhythmic devices.
This first volume in CPO's new survey of his symphonic output represent a good sampling of his surviving oeuvre in this genre. The program begins with the Tragic Overture heard here in a 1945 reconstruction (revised in 1955) of the original 1941 version destroyed in Warsaw. It's a musical representation of the fear and horror that gripped that city's residents on a daily basis during the early 1940s. Based on an insistent four-note cell, it builds to a horrendous bone-crushing percussive climax ending with a scream of desperation (see the newsletter of 7 January 2009) from the winds.
His 1947 tone poem Nocturne (revised in 1955) follows. It begins quietly with swirling mists and Mahlerian sighs that gradually coalesce into a monster crescendo. This slowly dissipates, and the work ends pretty much as it began. Soon after it was written, it took first prize in the Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937, see the newsletter of 16 January 2007) Competition held in Poland. This seems particularly appropriate considering there's a mystical impressionism present that’s very reminiscent of the older composer.
Although originally conceived in 1939 to celebrate the bravery of the Polish people during the German invasion of that year, the Heroic Overture wasn't completed until 1952 (revised in 1969). With a central theme inspired by the popular Polish patriotic song "Warszawianka," it's one of Andrzej's most fervent scores. Fragments of the main idea are repeated with chant-like regularity against a rhythmic counterpoint meted out by the percussion. The overall effect is stunning, and somewhat similar to those groundswell moments in Roy Harris's (1898-1979) symphonies (see the newsletters of 20 December 2006 and 25 November 2008).
The 1940 massacre of Polish POWs in the Katyn Forest of Russia was the motivating force behind the next selection, Katyn Epitaph (1967, revised 1969). Cultured from a descending three-note cellular motif, this moving tribute builds to a funereal climax which ends with a cardiac arrest drum-roll on the timpani. Hearing this piece one can't help being reminded of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) Babi Yar Symphony (No. 13, 1962) honoring the 1941 massacre of Jews that took place in the Ukraine.
Dating from 1982-83, Procession for Peace begins in much the same way as the ending of the previous selection, and seems to describe an approaching parade of passive demonstrators. The winds and strings intone a hymn-like chorale, ostensibly for World Peace, over a solemn cadence pounded out by the percussion. There's a sense of organic growth and monolithic solidity that make this extremely powerful music.
The final selection, Harmony: A Poem for Chamber Orchestra (1989), was dedicated to the composer's wife on the occasion of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. On a reduced scale compared to what’s come before, it’s the most romantic work here with brilliant scoring and a unique latticelike structure. More specifically as regards the latter, using two and three-note cellular motifs, Panufnik writes horizontal melodic lines for the winds and strings that are protracted enough to create exotic vertical harmonic intervals. The overall effect might be described as musical cubism.
With this release conductor Lukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra give us another outstanding disc of their national fare (see the newsletter of 9 September 2009). The performances are overwhelming in their power and intensity, easily eclipsing what little competition exists for any of these pieces. CPO's new Punufnik symphonic cycle couldn't be off to a better start!
Nowadays it seems some of the finest recordings are coming out of Australia (see the newsletter of 15 March 2007, Denmark (see the newsletter of 24 July 2008) and Poland (see the newsletter of 11 May 2009). And as far as conventional CDs go, this Polish Radio production sets the bar a notch higher for symphonic demonstration discs.
Done between 21 January and 4 July 2008 in the Witold Lutoslawski (1913-1994) Concert Studio, Warsaw, which would seem to have ideal acoustics, Panufnik's Technicolor scores are captured across a soundstage that's remarkable for its breadth, depth and focus. The instrumental timbre is bright, but remains musical and totally convincing. The frequent driving percussive passages go down to rock bottom with a transient solidity rarely captured on disc. Every audiophile, particularly those liking modern music, should have this release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100527)
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Baroque Beatles Book (Lennon, McCartney & Rifkin);
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Beatles Go Baroque (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison & Breiner); Soloists/Breiner/Breiner ChO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Best of Beatles Baroque (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison & Milnes); Soloists/Milnes/LesBoré [ATMA Cl]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The Beatles wrote some of the most popular songs of the twentieth century with tunes that readily lent themselves to arrangements using 17-18th century baroque musical forms. And it wasn't long before record companies began issuing releases capitalizing on this with the granddaddy of them all being the 1965 LP, "The Baroque Beatles Book." So the recent long awaited rerelease on CD of this legendary album seemed to cry out for a retrospective of the most interesting discs featuring Beatles wine in Baroque bottles.
Shortly after it first appeared "The Baroque Beatles Book" became one of the most popular "classical" recordings ever. It was the brainchild of Elektra/Nonesuch Records founder Jac Holzman (b. 1931) and pianist-composer-conductor Joshua Rifkin (b. 1944), who would later trigger the Scott Joplin (1868-1917) revival.
In those days of Beatlemania, what classical music enthusiast can ever forget hearing The Royale Beatleworks Musicke for the first time! Incorporating such great Lennon (1940-1980) and McCartney (b. 1942) hits as "I Want To Hold Your Hand" [track-1], "I'll Cry Instead" [track-2], "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" [track-4] and "Ticket To Ride" [track-5], it was modeled after and laced with amusing quotes from the orchestral works of J.S. Bach (1685-1750), Handel (1685-1759) and Telemann (1681-1767). Be sure to read the hilarious album notes for more details.
Based on "Hold Me Tight" [track-6], with droll references to Bach's Goldberg Variations (opening aria, BWV 988, 1741-42) [track-6, beginning at 03:10] and Handel's Harmonious Blacksmith Suite (Bk. 1, No. 5, final air and variations, HMV 430, published in 1720) [track-6, beginning at 03:42], the chicanery for solo harpsichord that follows is aptly named the Epstein Variations. Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961), who disliked harpsichords and once said they sounded like amorous skeletons on a tin roof, might have changed his mind had he heard this!
Next up, the festive cantata "Last Night I Said," which we're told is for the third Saturday after Shea Stadium. The musical antics at the Hoffnung Music Festivals pale in comparison to this waggish send-up of old JSB's cantatas. The opening sinfonia and chorus, "Please, Please Me" [track-7], complete with a clarion trumpet obbligato, are an absolute hoot, and the recitative that follows has nonsense words from John Lennon's book In His Own Write (1964, Simon & Schuster) [track-8]. Their worthy of Lewis Carroll's (1832-1898) Jabberwocky (1872) and introduce an aria inspired by "Help!" [track-9]. The cantata ends on a slightly more serious note with a surprisingly Lutheran-sounding chorale based on "I'll Be Back" [track-10].
The disc concludes with a two-movement trio sonata for oboe, violin and cello. The opening miniature French overture (slow-fast-slow) takes its cue from "Eight Day's A Week" [track-11]. The finale is a quodlibet, or humorous baroque extemporization, that's another Goldberg quote (variation 30) spiked with "She Loves You," "Thank You Girl" and "A Hard Day's Night" [track-12].
Having recently graduated from Julliard, Joshua Rifkin had just turned twenty-one when he conducted what's billed here as the Merseyside Kammermusikgesellschaft Baroque Ensemble, and Canby Singers assisted by the world's only Helpentenor, Harold Brienes, in the suite and cantata. So it's not surprising the performances exude a youthful vitality much in keeping with the "Fab Four." A round of applause also goes to the harpsichordist soloist, who we're told is Murray the Klavierkitzler, for his splendid reading of the variations, and to the three unnamed musicians who managed not to giggle while playing the sonata.
Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering is to be complimented for some restoration wizardry in the preparation of this new CD. Compared to the original LP, it has greater presence and consequently an improved soundstage. The instrumental timbre remains as bright as it was on vinyl, while the voice quality, though not as lifelike as on the black disc, is acceptable by conventional CD standards. Although this priceless release may not be a classic from the audiophile standpoint, it certainly is in every other respect.
The next significant example of "baroquing" The Beatles came some thirty-five years later in 2001 when Naxos released its "Beatles Go Baroque" CD. This has four ingenious Beatles Concerti Grossi concocted by Slovak pianist-composer-conductor Peter Breiner (b. 1957, see the newsletter of 29 September 2009). Conceptually speaking, they're along the lines of Rifkin's suite, but being concertante pieces they emphasize the interplay between soloists and tutti.
Each of Breiner's concerti is in the style of a well-known baroque composer. Handel's twelve Opus 6 Concerti Grossi (HMV 319-30, 1739) are the guiding light for the first of these with thematic material lifted from such Beatle's hits as "She Loves You" [track-1], "Lady Madonna" [track-2] and "Penny Lane" [track-5], to name a few.
Breiner's second pays homage to Vivaldi (1678-1741) whose Four Seasons (the first four of his twelve Opus 8 Concertos, published in 1725) lurks behind tunes which include "A Hard Day's Night" [track-6], "Girl" [track-7], "And I Love Her" [track-8], as well as "Help!" [track-10].
J.S. Bach is the honoree for the third, and his Brandenburg Concerti (BWV 1046-1051, 1708-21), particularly the fifth for flute and strings, figure heavily. Hits like "The Long And Winding Road" [track-11], "She's Leaving Home" [track 13] plus "Yellow Submarine" [track-16] make appearances, with a shout from the musicians in the last number [track-16 at 01:14] reminiscent of Delius' (1862-1934) Eventyr (1917).
Breiner doesn't tell us who the fourth concerto is modeled after, but as the album notes point out, it could well be Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Considered by many as the father of this genre, his twelve Opus 6 Concerti Grossi (published in 1714) would seem to underlie tunes like "Here Comes The Sun" (the only George Harrison song present) [track-17], "Michelle" [track-18] and "Carry That Weight" [track-20].
The performances by Breiner conducting his own chamber orchestra are spirited, and under the circumstances definitive, with technically accomplished playing from everyone involved. Beatles fans will delight in these cleverly constructed pieces where there's one fabulous melody after another.
The recordings are good, but the soundstage could have been a bit wider, and maybe some different miking would have produced a more natural string tone. Those quibbles aside, most folks will get so swept up in the music that any sonic shortcomings will soon be forgotten.
The third album of note comes from ATMA Classics, and appeared about a year ago. Entitled "The Best of Beatles Baroque," it's a single CD compendium of the most popular numbers from their trio of "Beatles Baroque" discs released between 2001 and 2007 (ATMA Classics-22218, 22268 & 22351).
Unlike Rifkin and Breiner, the talented keyboardist-conductor Eric Milnes (b. 1960), who did these delightful arrangements, was apparently not interested in working the material into larger forms. Consequently what we have here are two- to three-minute, stand-alone chamber orchestra transcriptions of Beatles songs done in baroque style.
The most straightforward and informal of the discs here, the scoring includes early instruments such as the recorder, viola da gamba, treble viol and harpsichord, as well as later ones like the guitar and accordion. There’s a predominance of solo parts, and some for the more exotic sounding winds, including the cornet à bouquin, featured in "Girl" [track-3], "A Day In The Life" [track-11], "The Long And Winding Road' [track-12] and "Here Comes The Sun" (the only George Harrison song present) [track-14], render these selections spellbinding.
For a little added variety, there's also a bit of clapping in "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" [track-1] and "We Can Work It Out" [track-4], plus some recorded bird calls in "Blackbird" [track-2]. Delicate percussive effects tastefully reinforce most everything.
With so much solo work called for in these arrangements, conductor Milnes and the up-and-coming Canadian chamber ensemble Les Boréades, along with some guest artists, are to be complimented for their uniformly fine playing. All of these brilliantly scored numbers are handled with such finesse they never sound hackneyed or mundane.
The recordings are exemplary with a broad soundstage enveloped in the resplendent acoustics of Saint-Augustin Church, Quebec, Canada. The instrumental timbre is totally natural sounding, and despite a lengthy reverberation time, all of the many soloists remain well-focused and perfectly balanced against the rest of the ensemble. This is a highly desirable demonstration disc for the amazing variety of solo instruments represented.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100526, P100525, Y100524)
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