CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
29 JUNE 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.
Bax: Vars... (hp, stgs), Sym Seren... (stgs) (w Arnell, Del Mar & Dodgson); Yates/RLiver PO [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Written between 1939 and 1992, all five of the British works on this new release from Dutton are world première recordings. Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), who is the earliest of the four composers represented, wrote his Variations on the Name GABRIEL FAURÉ originally for solo piano in 1945. But he later (1949) arranged it for strings and harp in the version heard here.
In five short movements the piece begins with a twelve note theme based on the moniker G-A-B-R-I-E-L-F-A-U-R-E, and played by the harp. The wistful opening "idyll" is followed by a tearful "barcarolle," rustic "polka," wind-swept "storm," and concludes with an introspective "quodlibet." This unpretentious offering finds the composer at his most elegant.
Another Bax selection, which is a realization of a piece he probably started around 1911 but never finished, is next. Originally to be called Symphonietta Finale, it's substantially influenced by Elgar (1857-1934), and according to the informative album notes, contains a theme from an early symphony (1907) Sir Arnold abandoned.
We have Bax authority Graham Parlett (see the newsletter of 27 November 2009) to thank for the inventive twenty-two-bar coda that ends this engaging bowed frolic. He based it on material appearing earlier in the work, and renamed the completed piece Symphonic Serenade so as to avoid any confusion with a sinfonietta Bax wrote in 1932.
Following the lead of American composer Samuel Barber (1910-1981), Londoner Stephen Dodgson (b. 1924) has to date written nine essays for orchestra . The seventh of these (1992) is solely for strings, and our next selection. It begins with what for lack of a better term might be called a "walking tune" somewhat in the sense of that by Percy Grainger (1882-1961). This is soon fragmented into bits and pieces, which the composer passes around to the various string sections, masterfully weaving a richly varied sonorous tapestry. There are occasional hints of the Dies Irae [track-8, beginning at 02:36 and 10:19], and towards the end a brief solo violin obbligato that takes wing like Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) Lark... (1914, revised 1920).
The next composer, Richard Arnell (1917-2009, see the newsletter of 25 April 2010), is represented by his Opus 1, which is the Classical Variations for Strings of 1939. He wrote it just before he left London for the United States, where he'd spend the World War II years (1939-1945), and become a close friend of Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975, see the newsletter of 12 April 2010), who championed his music there.
Arnell tells us in the album notes he was a student of John Ireland (1879-1962, see the newsletter of 31 July 2009), who taught him to write fugues such as the one opening this piece. The main idea is introduced in it, and then subjected to six variations. You'll find the first, fourth and fifth of these, which are a melodically vaulted "chorale," twitchy "alla breve" and folkish "intermezzo" particularly fetching.
The program concludes with a selection by someone who's best remembered today as a conductor, but was a good friend of the legendary Dennis Brain (1921-1957), and started his career as a horn player. Norman Del Mar (1919-1994) wrote his eight-minute Allegro Concertante for Horn and Strings in 1944 while serving with the Royal Air Force band during the war.
With a soaring opening theme for the soloist reinforced by accented string chords, there’s a melodic robustness and harmonic solidity reminiscent of Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) music. Could that be another reference to the Dies Irae (see the newsletter of 25 April 2010) towards the end [track-16, beginning at 06:50]? Be that as it may, this is a memorable contribution to the horn repertoire, and leaves the listener wishing Del Mar had expanded it into a full-fledged horn concerto.
Conductor Martin Yates once again (see the newsletter of 10 May 2010) brings his considerable expertise to bear on these selections, giving us magnificent renditions of them. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra performs all except the Del Mar, which is done by the BBC Concert Orchestra with horn soloist Stephen Bell, who’s in terrific form.
The recordings are generally good, and present a convincing soundstage with an ideal balance between the horn and orchestra. The strings are for the most part natural sounding, but the violins become a bit edgy in forte passages. That said, the significance of this rarely heard music greatly outweighs any audiophilic quibbles.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100629)
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Borgstrom: Vn Conc, Jesus in..., Night of...; Batstrand/Mortensen/Hansen/NorrOp SO [Simax]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The three orchestral selections by Norwegian composer Hjalmar Borgstrom (1864-1925) on this new release from Simax make their silver disc debut here. Initially a student of Johann Svendsen (1840-1911), the young Hjalmar left Norway at age twenty-three (1987) to study in Germany.
He was so taken with the musical scene in Europe, he spent the next fifteen years there attending concerts and analyzing scores, while barely being able to support himself by playing the violin, piano, and organ. With trips to Paris as well as London, he was nearing forty by the time he finally returned to Norway, where he would live out the rest of his life in Oslo.
He believed vehemently in the superiority of program over absolute music. Consequently it's not surprising he loved Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Hector Berlioz (1803-1869), and Richard Strauss (1864-1949), but found Brahms (1833-1897) tedious. Along with his good friend Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), Borgstrom even went so far as to coauthor a number of articles condemning the "absolute" concept. This along with his pro-German tastes may explain why his music was regularly performed while the flower of romanticism was still in full bloom, but fell into oblivion during the 1930s until its revival began a few years ago.
While not that evident in the violin concerto, his advocacy of program music is obvious in the two symphonic poems which begin this CD. Both of their manuscripts contain extensive notes by the composer giving the story lines and motifs associated with each (see the informative album notes for details). The first, "Jesus in Gethsemane," which was composed in 1904, is an emotionally charged twenty-minute musical representation of the anguish Jesus suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his crucifixion. The composer identifies eleven leitmotifs integral to the piece, and you'll find their starting times in the album booklet.
Lasting about ten minutes, the second tone poem, "The Night of the Dead" (1905), is scored for piano, strings, trumpet and tam-tam, the latter having been replaced on this recording by a bass drum for reasons that are not entirely clear. It's a delightful keyboard rhapsody that harkens back to Saint-Saëns' Dance macabre (1874) and Egyptian Piano Concerto (No. 5, 1896), but takes itself a bit more seriously. Five memorable motifs are identified by the composer, and make sure you read the album notes for their starting times as well as the story behind the work.
You'll find the conclusion featuring trumpet over strings with piano trill embellishments delicately moving, and reminiscent of that for the first movement of Louis Moreau Gottschalk's (1829-1869) A Night in the Tropics Symphony (No. 1, 1858-59, see the newsletter of 30 June 2007). Borgstrom’s piece is in the best tradition of the more diabolical creations from Berlioz and Liszt.
The violin concerto is a late opus dating from 1914, and in the usual three movements. It's a cheerful work, which belies the fact the composer wrote it soon after the death of his beloved wife. The tune-swept opening allegro has some inspired melodic moments, and there are several passages, including an extremely demanding cadenza, where the soloist can strut his stuff. But to his credit, the composer never lets the music simply become a superficial display of technique.
Based on a theme that's appealing for its simplicity, the central adagio is a rhapsodic aria for the violin which segues right into the final allegro. This begins with a delightfully perky fiddle tune, possibly of folk origin, which alternates with a more serious idea in the minor. The two motifs commingle towards the end, bringing the work to a quiet, unassuming conclusion. If you like the violin concertos of Svendsen, Lange-Müller (1850-1926, see the newsletter of 28 Spetember 2009) or Atterberg (1887-1974, see the newsletter of 18 April 2006), you'll love Borgstrom's!
For the last ten years conductor Terje Boye Hansen has championed forgotten Norwegian music, and along with the Norrlands Opera Symphony Orchestra he makes a strong case for the three Borgstrom selections on this release. One couldn't ask for better playing from pianist Nils Anders Mortensen and violinist Jonas Batstrand in the last two works. With technique to burn, Batstrand's string tone is simply superb. The album notes tell us he plays an instrument built around 1740 by Camillo Camilli (c. 1704-1754) -- roll over Antonio Stradivari (1644–1737)!
The recordings are demonstration quality, and present a perfectly proportioned soundstage in the glowing acoustic of the Norrland Opera House, Umea, Sweden. The orchestral timbre is totally natural, and the solo instruments ideally placed as well as balanced against the orchestra. The piano tone is most impressive, and that substitute bass drum comes across with a clarity that will test the transient response of the best sound systems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100628)
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Jaques-Dalcroze: Vn Conc 1, Poem ("Vn Conc 2"); Zamuruev/Anissimov/Mos SO [Guild]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Swiss composer Émile Jaques-Dalcroze (1865-1950) is new to these pages, and not any too soon! Educated in Geneva, Paris and Vienna, he could count Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924), Léo Delibes (1836-1891), Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) and Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) among his mentors, and would become a much sought after, highly respected teacher himself.
He also wrote a considerable amount of music, which in keeping with his training shows French as well as German neoromantic influence. Most of his symphonic works date from before 1914, and were written while he was living near Dresden, Germany. Consequently many of his manuscripts were stored there, and lost to Allied bombings during World War II (1939-45, see the newsletter of 29 September 2009). Fortunately that was not the case with the two violin concertante works appearing on this new Guild release.
A good friend of several legendary late-romantic violin virtuosos, including Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931), the composer fully exploits the solo instrument in both works. The first of these, completed in 1901, is in the usual three movements, beginning with an allegro that for the most part adheres to sonata form. The two thematic ideas in the opening statement are reservedly regal (RR) and cheerfully lyrical (CL) respectively. The sophisticated development that follows is notable for a clever central fugato in the orchestra, which the soloist transits in stately fashion, playing RR as if it were a chorale. The thrilling recapitulation which soon follows features some fancy fiddling in addition to remembrances of past themes.
The delicate largo is a melodic gem with cyclic references to RR and CL that make the work all the more coherent. It's the lull before the boisterous finale quasi fantasia, which is brilliantly orchestrated with harp and wind embellishments. Additional memorable melodic material is introduced at the outset, and then this masterfully constructed concerto ends with the main thematic protagonists taking final bows.
The Poem for Violin and Orchestra came eight years later in 1909. When it first appeared in print it was misleadingly subtitled his second concerto, probably at the insistence of the publisher in hopes of selling more copies. A considerably more serious and advanced work than the previous one, it's in two extended free-form rhapsodic sections lasting about twenty-minutes each. The first is sad, and may bring to mind Ernest Chausson's (1855-1899) Poem… of 1896. With spun-out melodies and a late romantic chromatic angst, it's extremely moving.
The last section is noteworthy for a recurring sinister martial ostinato pessimistically proclaimed by the orchestra. But the violin eventually refuses to have any part of it, rallying everyone into a triumphant outpouring of hope for the future. Again cyclic thematic flashbacks endow this music with a satisfying sense of continuity.
The winner of many violin competitions, Rodion Zamuruev distinguishes himself in dramatic, yet meticulous renditions of these little known selections. Many readers will remember conductor Alexander Anissimov for his memorable accounts of Alexander Galzunov's (1865-1936) symphonic music. And it would seem he's equally at home with Jaques-Dalcroze's, judging from the ideal support rendered by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
Recorded in the Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, the sound is superb, and presented across a wide soundstage with just the right amount of reverberation. Zamuruev's violin tone is extremely rich, and he’s perfectly balanced against the orchestra. The instrumental timbre is lifelike with only occasional high end hot spots in the brass. Some might argue the bass end could be a bit cleaner in places, but most audiophiles will probably pronounce this disc demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100627)
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Koechlin: Pno Qnt, Stg Qt 3; Lavaud/Antigone Qt [Ar Re-Se]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
We recently told you about a CD with chamber music by Cyril Scott (1879-1970, see the newsletter of 28 February 2010), and those who liked it should love this one from Ar Re-Se featuring world première recordings of some by French composer Charles Koechlin (1867-1950). Both of the selections on this disc reflect the latter’s shock and grief over the horrific events of World War I (1914-18). A bit of a dreamer as well as an idealist, you'll find his music innocently sincere and extremely moving.
The program begins with his only piano quintet written between 1917 and 1921. In four movements with descriptive epithets, the one for the opening andante might be freely translated as "Apprehension About What Will Happen." Ghostly and impressionistic, it conjures up images of noxious mists which will soon part, revealing The Guns of August (see the newsletter of 8 February 2010).
The following allegro, "The Enemy Attack -- The Wound," is the longest movement, and could be considered a militant scherzo. It's a one of a kind chamber poem depicting combat with what sound like skirmishes, counterattacks, and the ever present chaos of war. The movement finally succumbs to hemorrhaging open fifths, which would seem to be a musical representation of life ebbing away in a mortally wounded soldier.
Another andante, "Consoling Nature," is next, and the first optimistic utterance heard so far. Meditative and supernally hopeful, it's Koechlin at his most introspective, and foreshadows the ebullient last movement subtitled "The Joy." The dogs of war have slipped away in this jubilant finale, ending a most thought-provoking piece with high hopes for the future.
Begun in 1913 but not finished until 1921, the third and last of his string quartets fills out the disc. In four movements, the first might easily be a musical impression of a warm spring day caressed by gentle polytonal breezes. The testy militaristic scherzo that’s next bristles with what the composer describes in the margins of his score as trumpet and drum flourishes.
Then a lyrically sinuous adagio provides a respite before the onset of the rustic jig-like finale. Bumptious, gawky and probably folk-inspired, it ends this captivating quartet on a lighter note.
This release marks the auspicious recording debut of the Antigone Quartet, whose four women members are joined by pianist Sarah Lavaud for the quintet. Fine musicians every one, they know just how to handle these emotionally convoluted scores, which in lesser hands could become rather perfunctory. This is particularly apparent in their attention to the subtle rhythmic and dynamic details that characterize Koechlin's music.
Spread across a wide soundstage in a friendly acoustic, the recordings are for the most part very good. The instrumental timbre is generally quite natural sounding, but the disc is cut at a pretty high level, so expect some upper-end edginess in forte passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100626)
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Moniuszko: Flis (Raftsman, cpte opera); Soloists/Kunc/SzcCastleOp C&O [DUX]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Stanislaw Moniuszko (1819-1872) was predominantly a vocal composer (see the newsletter of 18 October 2006), and is generally considered the father of Polish national opera. Born just east of Poland in the Minsk district of modern day Belarus, he showed exceptional musical talent at an early age, and went on to study in Berlin. After three years there (1837-1840), he moved to Vilnius, where he'd secured a post as an organist.
The next eighteen years saw him very active as a conductor and composer, culminating in the highly successful 1848 Vilnius première of his opera Halka (1847-48). A very nationalistic work, the political climate in Poland at the time would delay its Warsaw debut by ten years. But when it was finally performed there in 1858, it was such a hit that the composer was appointed director of the Warsaw Polish Opera (WPO) the very same year.
1858 also saw the completion and staging with the composer conducting the WPO of the one-act comic opera Flis (The Raftsman) presented here. Much influenced by Polish folk music, and with an endearing innocence as well as a charming rusticity anticipating Smetana's (1824-1884) The Bartered Bride of eight years later (1863-66), it was another triumph for Moniuszko. Those not knowing it will discover a captivating addition to the body of lighter romantic singspiele!
The action takes place in an area of Warsaw along the Vistula River. In twelve scenes, the opening one [track-1] begins with an absolutely thrilling overture depicting a violent, passing thunderstorm. This gets things off to an exhilarating whitewater start, and as the tempest abates the local peasants sing an inspired chorus of thanks [track-2].
It becomes apparent in the next couple of scenes that this is a tale about two star-crossed lovers, one of whom is Franek the raftsman. The other is his inamorata Zosia, whose wealthy fisherman father, Antoni, has already promised her hand to a Warsaw hair stylist, Jakub. But this being a comedy with some of the jolliest nationalistic music to ever come out of nineteenth century Poland, suffice to say they're happily united in the end. See the plot synopsis and complete libretto (Polish with English, German and Italian translations) included with the album notes for all the details.
Vocal highlights include a lovely opening aria for Zosia [track-3]. Then there’s a rousing duet [track-4] where she's joined by her old soldier friend and confidant Szóstak, who assures her he'll straighten everything out. There are also some rousing choruses sung by Franek and his fellow raftsmen [tracks-6, 7 and 8], as well as an emotionally charged duet for the two lovers.
Towards the end of the opera there's a masterfully constructed quartet for the main protagonists [track-10], which sets the stage for the finale [track-12], where Jakub and Franek discover they're long lost brothers! Then out of fraternal affection, "The Barber of Warsaw" concedes Zosia's hand to Franek, and the opera ends with everyone rejoicing to the refrain, "Long live the raftsman." You'll love it!
Soprano Iwona Socha (Zosia), tenor Boguslaw Bidzinski (Franek), baritones Michal Partyka (Jakub) and Leszek Skrla (Antoni), in addition to bass-baritone Janusz Lewandowski (Szóstak) are all in splendid voice, singing each of their roles with great aplomb. Along with the Szczecin Castle Opera (SCO) Chorus and Orchestra conducted by their artistic director Warcislaw Kunc, they deliver what will undoubtedly be the definitive recording of this opera for a long time to come.
By the way, the SCO is the only opera company in Poland with all eight of Moniuszko's extant completed operas in its repertoire. Hearing Flis, one can only hope DUX may give us future recordings of others which have yet to appear on CD. In the meantime, if you don't already know them, you might want to investigate The Haunted Manor (1861-64) and Paria (1859-69).
The recording is generally quite good with a convincing soundstage, and the soloists as well as the chorus ideally highlighted and balanced against the orchestra. The only complaint would be some occasional upper midrange digital grain in the violins and massed voices. Had this been a hybrid disc, there probably would have been considerably less of this on the SACD tracks. But then again with repertoire this rare beggars can't be choosers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100625)
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Mosolov (Mossolov): Sym 1 (in E), Vc Conc 2; Yeremin/Titov/StPeteStAcad SO [N Flowers]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Russian composer Alexander Vasilievich Mosolov (1900-1973) was born in Kiev, but the family moved to Moscow in 1903. With a mother who was a coloratura soprano, he grew up in an artistic environment. He also received much of his early education in Europe when he went there with his mother as she pursued her career in Paris, Berlin and London. With the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917, Alexander was one of the first to join the fray. However, wounds suffered in 1921 forced his return to civilian life.
The next year he entered the Moscow Conservatory where his instructors would include Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950, see the newsletter of 15 March 2007) and Reinhold Glière (1875-1956). He was a brilliant student, and quickly became a highly prolific composer with a penchant for the avant-garde, which would soon got him in trouble with Stalin and the "Communist Commissars of Culture" (see the newsletter of 31 May 2010). Accordingly performances of his music dwindled during the late 1920s, and by the early 1930s he was totally forgotten in Soviet concert halls.
Consequently he turned to collecting and arranging folk music, as well as concocting lighter fare based on same. By the early 1940s he’d abandoned his maverick creative instincts, and opted for a more immediately appealing style emphasizing lyricism and harmonic simplicity. Interestingly enough this is much the same thing his compatriot Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) had done in order to creatively survive under the culturally repressive Stalinist regime (1928-53). But this wasn't without its psychological costs, which may account for the underlying melancholy in the later works of both composers.
So the man who'd started out in the company of such bad-boys as Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) and George Antheil (1900-1959) by coming up with shockingly controversial works like The Iron Foundry episode in the ballet Steel (1926-28, complete ballet not currently available on disc), began producing more readily accessible ones like those offered here.
Completed in 1944, and running a little over fifty minutes, the first of his six symphonies calls for an enormous orchestra that includes triple woodwinds, massive brass (eight French horns), and an extensive percussion section. The opening largo begins with a solemn folkish idea (SF) which will appear in a variety of colorful orchestral guises. At times these even include some mystical touches added by tintinnabular percussion. The movement is at heart a theme and variations, which first builds to a monumental militaristic climax. It then slowly fades away only to burst into a tumultuous final coda with SF gloriously proclaimed in the major.
Another largo follows where rhythmic diversity is the key ingredient, recalling the more exotic creations of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007) and Liadov (1855-1914). Once again the music builds to a tremendous crescendo. All this over an insistent tattoo beaten out by the drums somewhat like that Roman legion marching through Respighi's (1879-1936) Pines of Rome (see the newsletter of 9 March 2006). But the parade ends suddenly with an explosive gong crash, and the movement concludes in "celestal" peace.
Although it gets off to a slow and sinister start, the next movement quickly becomes one of those brilliantly scored Slavic scherzos in the best tradition of Glazunov (1865-1936, see the newsletter of 20 August 2009), Glière, and even baby Stravinsky (1882-1971). The pulsating rhythmic figures pervading its closing measures hint at the concluding allegro to come. This begins with a folklike ursine tune (FU), which is first played by the bassoon, and then worked up into one of those magmatic Soviet finales. Previously heard motifs make a last appearance in cyclic fashion, and the symphony ends with a triumphant restatement of FU as the Russian Bear conquers all.
The first having been lost, the second of Mosolov's two cello concertos is next. It was dedicated to, and permièred by Russian cellist Alexander Stogorsky (1910-1987), brother of the great Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976, see the newsletter 31 October 2009). With an eight year gestation period (1938-45), it represents a synthesis of several other works and possibly includes fragments from the earlier concerto. It was Myaskovsky who originally encouraged him to write this, and fans of the older composer's cello concerto (1944-45) will love Mosolov's.
In three movements, the opening elegy is a romantic outpouring of Slavic sole with an invigorating central dance episode, and a riveting cadenza. The following intermezzo is a brilliantly scored airy delight a lá Borodin (1833-1887, see the newsletter of 30 September 2006), Rimsky-Korsakov and Glazunov. But the best is yet to come in the jaunty finale built around a couple of melodies probably based on folk material Mosolov had collected. There’s also another challenging cadenza, and then the concerto ends with a thrilling march-like coda.
Cellist Dmitry Yeremin does well by the concerto giving us a totally committed performance of this rarity, with only an occasional intonational warble. Like their Popov (see the newsletter of 8 February 2010) and Weinberg (see the newsletter of 28 February 2010) CDs, the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra under conductor Alexander Titov delivers impassioned performances of both works. There are a couple of less than ideally played passages, but they're fleeting and don't detract from the overall enjoyment of the music.
The recordings are far superior to those old steely sounding Soviet Melodiyas, but one couldn't classify this disc as audiophile demonstration quality. On the good side, the soundstage is appropriately broad befitting the massive orchestral forces involved, and housed in the warm reverberant acoustic of St. Catherine Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg. Also the solo cello is very natural sounding, and ideally balanced against the orchestra. On the bad, the instrumental timbre is a tad edgy. That nitpick aside, the music will soon make you forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100624)
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