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



30 SEPTEMBER 2010

CROCKS NEWSLETTER

The albums below are "Classical Releases Of Current Key Significance," or "CROCKS", if you will. To purchase an album, simply click on one of the Web site retail outlets given in the "AVAILABILITY" table under the write-up.



The album cover may not always appear.
Alwyn: Cl Son, Ob Son, Va Son, Stg Trio, Conversations (cl, vn & pno); Soloists/HermStg Trio [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A writer-poet as well as an accomplished artist in addition to being one of England's most respected music educators and prolific composers, William Alwyn (1905-1985) was truly a Renaissance man! Having left us some three hundred concert works (see the newsletters of 18 October 2006, 16 January 2007, 9 August 2007, 8 September 2008 and 26 March 2010) and nearly two hundred film scores (see the newsletter of 9 March 2006), we have here a sampling of his lesser known chamber music, including one world premičre recording (WPR).

The concert begins with a three-movement sonata for clarinet and piano, which dates from 1962, and is the latest of the six pieces on this release. In a single twelve minute span the composer describes it as a "fantasy-sonata," comparing it to Debussy's (1862-1918) later chamber music, of which the 1909-10 Premičre Rhapsodie for clarinet and piano -- he never wrote another -- comes to mind. Loosely structured, it's a dramatic virtuosic confrontation between contrasting thematic ideas.

The composer pirated much of the thematic material for his three-movement sonata for oboe and piano of 1934 from a sonatina for piano and orchestra he'd begun the previous year, but would never finish. The rustic opening moderato is followed by a comely lied-like andantino and final waltzing allegro. The music is perfectly suited to the most plaintive of wind instruments.

Next up, we have the sonatina for viola and piano (WPR) of 1942, which Alwyn originally called a short suite. In retrospect this seems a more appropriate title considering it's in four tiny informal movements. They consist of a pensive prelude, elfin dance, mellifluous aria and spunky finale.

The suite for oboe and harp from 1945 that follows is in much the same spirit as the sonatina. It consist of three miniscule dances that include a minuet with a Cheshire Cat grin, a perky waltz, and a fast-slow-fast folkish jig.

The most progressive work here is the string trio of 1959 where Alwyn was experimenting with dodecaphony, while staying within the bounds of tonality. In four movements, the beginning allegro introduces a tone row which is rigorously developed. Fragments of it serve as the seed material for the next two movements, which are a twitchy scherzo and yearning cavatina. The finale begins in great agitation, but gradually slows becoming highly melodic, and ending quietly with a romanticized version of the opening row.

The final selection, Conversations, is a suite of eight brief trialogues for violin, clarinet and piano dating from 1950. The piano could be considered the moderator and the other two instruments panelists for this musical forum. The opening "prelude," "romanza" and "chorale" are highly melodic. Then there's a contentious "fughetta" followed by a sinuous "arioso," tintinnanbulous "carillon" and disembodied "intermezzo." The discussion closes with a "capriccio" featuring a skittish piano, bluesy clarinet and reticent violin. This and the preceding trio are magnificently crafted pieces ranking with the best English chamber music of this period.

All of the performances are superb with a special round of applause going to clarinetist Robert Plane, oboist Sarah Francis and pianist Sophia Rahman for their distinguished playing. The Hermitage String Trio must also be commended for their dynamic reading of the trio.

Made over a two-day period, the recordings are outstanding. They project a soundstage perfectly suited to each of these small ensembles, bathed in the warm acoustic of the Henry Wood Hall in London. The instrumental timbre is exceptional with a velveteen clarinet, piquant oboe, articulate harp, well-rounded piano, and natural string tone. Audiophile chamber music devotees couldn't ask for a finer demonstration disc.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100930)

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The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Pno Conc 2, Pno Wks (5 solo); Massa/Crudele/BerSymkr [Capriccio]
Dallapiccola: Pno Conc "Piccolo", 2 Orch Pieces, Pno Wks (3 solo); Massa/Hirsch/Ber RSO [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
The Florence Conservatory figured heavily in the lives of these two Italian composers. It was there that Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) received his musical training between 1912 and 1918 from Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968, see the newsletter of 10 September 2010), and where Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-1975) got a degree, becoming a professor of piano in 1931. But the rise of the Nazis (1933-45) with their anti-Semitic policies soon created hardships for both men.

Being Jewish, Mario fled to the United States in 1939, where he'd spend the rest of his life, supplementing his income by writing Hollywood film scores like his fellow expatriates Schoenberg (1874-1951), Korngold (1897-1957, see the newsletter of 9 August 2007) and Tansman (1897-1986, see the newsletter of 11 May 2009). As for Luigi, who was Aryan, his having a Jewish wife made their life in Italy increasingly difficult, to the point where they were forced into hiding on a couple of occasions during World War II (1939-45).

Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote tonally based music of late romantic persuasion throughout his career, while Dallapiccola adopted the serialist principles of the Second Viennese School in his later works. All of the selections on the two CDs featured here are either tonal or soft-core dodecaphonic.

The first one is devoted to piano music by Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and begins with the world premičre recording of his second piano concerto. Written between 1936 and 1937, which were some of the worst years in fascist Italy for the composer, it had to wait until he escaped to America for its first performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City (1939). In the standard three movements, the piano is set off against a medium-sized orchestra made all the more colorful by some campanological embellishments. The animated opening movement has a couple of attractive thematic ideas the composer develops with some attendant keyboard pyrotechnics reminiscent of Rachmaninov (1873-1943).

The following "romanza, tranquillo e meditativo" is the concerto's emotional core with two alternating spun-out melodies that are respectively graceful and introspective. It segues directly into the restless angular finale that may remind you of Paganini's (1762-1840) more fiendish moments. The closing measures contain impressive bravura piano passages, and a fiery finish for full orchestra.

Five works for solo piano fill out the disc, beginning with two related to the sea. They are La sirenetta e il pesce turchino - Flaba marina (The Little Mermaid and the Turquoise Fish - A Marine Fairy Tale) of 1920, and Alghe (Seaweed) from 1919, which Debussy (1862-1918) and Ravel (1875-1937) would have loved. They're followed by another impressionistic fable from 1921 Vitalba e Biancospino - Flaba silvana (Clematis and Hawthorn - A Forest Fairy Tale).

The last two selections are Passatempi - cinque piccoli Walzer (Diversions - Five Short Waltzes) of 1928, and the world premičre recording of the 1935 Onde - Due Studi (Waves - Two Études). Lasting roughly a minute each, the waltzes are charming snapshots of old Vienna taken with a camera having a Ravelian lens. The études, which owe a debt to Chopin (1810-1849), are flowing sinusoids. They may well be a musical representation of radio waves, as they were written for Mario's doctor in payment for some radiotherapy he'd undergone. Judging from these pieces, Doc must have been one heck of a pianist!

You'll find the next disc with piano music by Dallapiccola not exactly out in twelve-tones-ville, but significantly more chromatically progressive. The first selection is the Piccolo Concerto per Muriel Couvreux (Petite Concerto for Muriel Couvreux) for piano and chamber orchestra from 1939-41. Dedicated to the seven-year-old daughter of Parisian friends, you'll find it appropriately childlike with pentatonic elements that bring to mind Debussy's pediatric creations such as the Children's Corner Suite (1906-08).

Structurally unique, it's in two tripartite movements with the first consisting of a "pastorale," "girotondo" ("Ring Around the Rosie") and "ripresa” ("repise"). It opens as the woodwinds with occasional avian chirps from the piano introduce a lazy eight-note melodic row (LE) that brings to mind a warm summer day. The pace quickens in the whirling "girotondo" where the soloist and tutte frantically chase each other around like small children to a repeated campanological sounding riff derived from LE. They finally fall exhausted to the ground in the lyrically relaxed LE-laced "reprisa" which concludes the first movement.

The opening part of the final movement is a resplendent cadenza for the piano, once again built around LE. It transitions directly into a lovely nocturne for the orchestra based on romanticized fragments of LE decorated with sporadic pianistic ornaments. The ebullient finale recalls previous ideas including LE, and ends the concerto with a joyful D major chord. This music will appeal to the child in everyone!

Three solo piano works are next, beginning with the 1942-43 Sonatina canonica in mi bemolle maggiore su "Capricci" di Niccolň Paganini (Canonical Sonata in Eb major on Caprices by Niccolň Paganini). In four miniature movements, there's a naive cheerfulness about it that belies the considerable demands placed on the soloist, and some rather involved canonic counterpoint. The last movement is a delightful Marche Miniature based on the fourteenth of Paganini's 24 Caprices for violin (Op. 1, 1801-07).

The much more intense Tre Episodi dal Balletto "Marsia" (Three Episodes from the Ballet "Marsia") of 1949-50 derived from his 1948 stage work follows. The composer is beginning to show his dodecaphonic stripes here by unifying all three with a recurring twelve-tone row. Except for this, the piece remains tonal with pentatonic colorations reminiscent of Debussy. The knuckle-busting middle "ostinato" is not for beginners!

The last solo piano selection is the Quaderno musicale di Annalibera (Annalibera Dallapiccola's Music Notebook) written for the composer's daughter in 1952. The eleven brief pieces comprising it could be considered a homage to old J.S. Bach (1685-1750) along the lines of the Anna Magdalena Bach Notebook (1722-25), but with no singing. These pieces are tightly interlinked, and meant to be played sequentially at one sitting. Contrapuntally complex, the B-A-C-H (Bb-A-C-B in English notation) motif is used repeatedly as a unifying factor in conjunction with tone-rows, making this the most serialist sounding piece here. But even then, the concluding "quartina" is a melodized version of the basic row that ends these exercises on listener friendly terms.

The disc closes with Due Pezzi per Orchestra (Two Pieces for Orchestra) from 1946-48. This is a symphonic version of a work for violin and piano based on material for an unrealized documentary film about Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca (1415-1492). The opening "Saraband" brings to mind the identically named first of Busoni's (1866-1924) Two Studies for "Doktor Faust" (1918-19). But the Dallapiccola is serially sinister except for some moderating references to Early Music. The second piece, "Fanfare and Fugue," opens imperiously, elaborating on ideas in the preceding one. It then ends with a warming burst of light from a C sharp major triad.

Pianist Pietro Massa is our soloist on both discs, and an enthusiastic advocate of this little-known music. An accomplished technician his playing of the Castelnuovo-Tedesco is frequently assertive, while he shows great sensitivity and restraint in Dallapiccola's more intricate creations. The Berlin Symphoniker under conductor Alessandro Crudele makes a strong impression providing Signore Massa with flamboyant support on the first CD. While conductor Peter Hirsch and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra get a big round of applause for their well-judged readings on the second. Many will find their deeply felt performance of Due Pezzi superior to others out there.

The recordings are excellent, but not quite demonstration quality. The concerto on the first disc was done in a different venue from that used for the orchestral selections on the other. Still the soundstages projected are amazingly similar, with the one for the more conservatively scored Dallapiccola being a bit narrower. The instrumental timbre tends towards the bright side, but reverberant surroundings moderate this to some degree without blurring the sound. The piano in both concertos is well rounded and balanced against the orchestra.

The solo piano pieces on both releases were done in the same studio, and are ideally presented across a generous soundstage in a nurturing acoustic. The recordings accurately capture the forte passages in Castelnuovo-Tedesco's music without any hint of digital grain, as well as the exquisite detail of the more restrained Dallapiccola selections.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100929, P100928)

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The album cover may not always appear.
Collins, E.J.: Daughter of the South (cpte opera); Soloists/Alsop/RScotNa C&O [Albany]
Everyone interested in American music owes a vote of thanks to Albany Records for single-handedly reviving that of Edward J. Collins (1886-1951). Born in Joliet, Illinois, to Irish immigrant parents, he began his musical training in his hometown and then Chicago. In 1906 he went to study in Berlin, and being an accomplished pianist, made his concert debut there to much critical acclaim.

He returned to the United States in 1912, but was back in Germany after a few months where he’d secured a position as an assistant conductor at the Bayreuth Festival. Unfortunately the outbreak of World War I (1914-18) cut this gig short, forcing him to come home, where he joined the Army and served with great distinction. Upon resuming civilian life, he composed a significant number of orchestral works in addition to his one opera, Daughter of the South, featured here.

Set on a Confederate plantation during the "War Between the States" (1861-65) and completed in 1939, one is tempted to think he was influenced by the appearance of Gershwin's (1898-1937) Porgy and Bess (1935), as well as the book (1936) and movie versions (1939) of Margaret Mitchell's (1900-1949) Gone with the Wind. However, that doesn't seem to have been the case, considering his familial as well as personal military background, and the fact he was a Civil War buff. Also the music is unique to Collins, who suffuses it with an assortment of folk tunes in addition to popular, jazz and blues elements from the 1920-30s (see the newsletters of 24 July 2008 and 13 August 2008) in the manner of Charles Ives (1874-1954, see the newsletters of 6 December 2006 and 20 December 2006).

By the way, only 200 of the 242 pages that comprised the original score have found their way down to us. But with some painstaking reconstruction (see the superb album notes for details, and the complete English libretto), the opera is presented here at close to its original length of about an hour. We have American composer Daron Hagen (b. 1961) to thank for recreating a full score for this one act, two scene drama. He tells us he avoided having to write any new material by expanding on fragmented piano-vocal reductions from it, and using the music for an aria in Collins's Hymn to the Earth (1929).

As the curtain goes up it's 1861 on the eve of the Civil War at the Leesburg, Virginia mansion and surrounding plantation of Confederate Colonel Edmond Randolph. With no formal overture, a brief cakewalk-like outburst from the orchestra is immediately followed by a spirited duet sung by the slaves Jonah and Melda, which includes a lovely extended solo for Melda. Could that be a reference to "Ol' Man River" from Jerome Kern's (1885-1945) Showboat (1927) when she sings "...ole man ribber flowin' along" [track-2, beginning at 00:21]?

The duet resumes with some urgency as Jonah tells Melda about the possibility of a North-South conflict. The two then disappear around the side of the house as the Colonel and his daughter, Mary Lou, come out the front door for a couple of war-anxiety-ridden arias [track-3]. Suddenly Jonah returns followed by a gaggle of guests who've come to celebrate Mary Lou's engagement [track-4]. Among them is Robert Warren, who's her fiancé, and a Northerner -- ay, there's the rub!

A rousing ensemble number follows [track-4], and then a stirring ten-minute ballet for the slaves [track-5] reminiscent of those high-stepping moments in Scott Joplin's (1868-1917) Treemonisha (1915). At one point [track-5, beginning at 03:39] it resembles that wild dance in the third movement of Delius' (1862-1934) Florida Suite (1887-89). Collins concludes it by quoting his own Cowboy's Breakdown of 1938 [track-5, beginning at 08:14], which was one of his most popular pieces. It ends with a droll reference to the old riff "Shave and a Haircut -- Two Bits" [track-5, beginning at 10:22].

Next all of the assembled join in a couple of stirring choruses. The first is a pastoral paean to life and love set to a lovely waltz melody [track-6]. The second is a rhythmically intoxicating dance-don't-fight number, after which the outbreak of hostilities is announced by the Colonel crying, "War!" [track-7].

This prompts a couple of lovely romantic arias and duets for Robert and Mary Lou [tracks-8, 9 and 10]. But their exchange turns ominous with thoughts of the coming conflict. Here Collins may be showing his Catholic upbringing by making fateful allusions to the Dies Irae (see the newsletter of 10 September 2010) [track-10, beginning at 04:16].

Jonah then tells the two of them that Confederate soldiers are on the way to intern Robert, prompting him to exchange a brief farewell with Mary Lou and flee north [track-11]. The first scene ends with a stirring orchestral postlude combining "The Girl I Left Behind Me" (see the newsletter of 28 October 2008), " I Wish I Was in Dixie" (see the newsletter of 16 August 2010), and some music for drum and fife [track-12].

The setting remains the same for the second and final scene, but it's now four years later. From the veranda of the house Mary Lou sings an emotional lament with a sobering reference to "Taps" [track-13, beginning at 04:35], bemoaning the war years she’s spent without her Robert [track-13]. Melda enters along with Jonah [track-14] and sings her to sleep with a comforting lullaby [track-15].

As the slaves leave, an orchestral interlude begins in the form of an impressive funeral march worthy of a Walton (1902-1983) film score [track-16]. Then wonder of wonders, a disheveled Robert, who's escaped from a Confederate prison camp, staggers in. Mary Lou wakens and they fall into each other’s arms singing an amorous duet. However, their bliss is soon shattered as soldiers of the South burst in and drag Robert away to be shot as a spy [track-17]. But take heart, this is no tragedy!

Colonel Randolph enters, and sings a grief-stricken aria about his devastated homeland, in which he tells us the war is over [track-18]. With most of the cast now on stage, the concluding ensemble number begins with the cakewalk motif which began the opera, and Randolph revealing all prisoners, including Robert, are to be released [track-19].

Shortly thereafter Robert and the soldiers who captured him come running on stage to join in the celebration over the cessation of hostilities. With more endearing references to "Dixie," Collins conjures up a spirited finale ending this Civil War singspiel on a highpoint that must rank it with such romantic American operas as Howard Hanson's (1896-1981) Merry Mount (1933, see the newsletter of 1 June 2007).

The soloists include soprano Lisa Milne (Mary Lou), mezzo-soprano Andrea Baker (Melda), tenor Peter Auty (Robert), baritone Peter Coleman-Wright (Colonel Randolph), and bass-baritone Keel Watson (Jonah). All of them sing their roles with great commitment making their characters totally believable. Milne and Watson are in fine voice, but some may find Coleman-Wright's vibrato at times reminiscent of the Cowardly Lion. Conductor Marin Alsop again proves herself a devoted advocate of Collins' music, eliciting outstanding support from the Royal Scottish Chorus and Orchestra.

The recording is good, and presents a Tara-sized soundstage with an ideal balance between the soloists, chorus and orchestra. The only drawback is a slight edge to the voices, but finally having this rare bit of Americana on disc greatly outweighs any audiophile reservations.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100927)

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The album cover may not always appear.
Panufnik, A.: Orch Wks V2 (Syms 1 "Rustica" & 4, Polonia, Lullaby); Soloists/Borowicz/Pol RSO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
This is the second volume in CPO's ongoing series devoted to the symphonic works of Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991, see the newsletter of 31 May 2010). It's another welcome addition to the recorded body of music by a Polish composer who also mastered conducting, feeling it was a prerequisite to writing effectively for the orchestra. In that regard Felix Weingartner (1863-1942, see the newsletter of 8 september 2008), with whom he actually studied, and Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954, see the newsletter of 28 April 2007) were his lifelong role models. Andrzej also believed in trying to achieve a true balance between the emotional and intellectual in his music (see the informative album notes), and hearing the four selections on this CD, most would probably agree he did just that.

The program opens with the first of his ten surviving symphonies, two having been lost when the Nazis laid waste to Warsaw in 1944. In four movements and entitled "Sinfonia Rustica," it was written in 1948, and underwent a revision in 1955 involving the opening of the third movement. You'll find the original version of the latter included as a bonus [track-5].

The symphony is meant to be a musical characterization of wycinanki, which are those colorful, semi-abstract folk art paper cutouts, usually of symmetrical design, made in rural Poland. In keeping with their origin the composer draws from Polish folk music for his thematic material. Their symmetry is reflected in the symphony's structure, which consists of two sonata form outer movements that bookend a pair of counterbalanced inner ones.

Taking the symmetry concept a step further, the composer tells us the music is "stereophonically composed" for two equally divided groups of strings, thereby creating a running dialogue between them. To make the audience more aware of this, he specifies the orchestra be laid out with the string ensembles flanking all the other instruments. This may bring back memories of those early days of stereo with ping-pong balls bouncing between your speakers!

The symphony's opening movement begins with a whirligig theme that serves as an introduction to a more expansive melody worthy of Miklós Rózsa’s (1907-1995) music for one of those Biblical epics. The two ideas are ingeniously developed, and then recapitulated, ending things on a reverential note.

This sets the tone for the next two inner movements, each of which is a cleverly amalgamated theme with variations and passacaglia. Both have main subjects with more than a passing similarity to the old familiar Christmas carol "We Three Kings," making one wonder if the wycinanki that inspired them were yuletide-related. While one is flighty in the manner of a scherzo, the second is impressionistically restrained and quite reminiscent of Charles Ives (1874-1954, see the newsletter of 3 July 2008). It makes one wonder if Andrzej knew his music.

The spirit of Miklós Rózsa returns in the finale where a couple of muscular folkish motifs are subjected to a vigorous contrapuntally-laced development. A jubilant recapitulation with a final triumphant whoop from the horns ends the symphony. Incidentally this movement clearly demonstrates the unconventional configuration of the orchestra (see above).

The triadic-dominated fourth symphony, or Sinfonia Concertante for Flute, Harp and Strings (1973), is in two contrasting movements with a tiny postscript. The slow Orphic opening on the harp characterizes the sighing lachrymose first movement, which the composer tells us is perfectly symmetrical. In that regard there's a palindromic severity about it reminiscent of the prelude to Constant Lambert's (1905-1951) Horoscope Ballet Suite (1937).

The contrasting second movement begins with an ursine double bass solo that might well describe a bear scratching itself against a tree. The remaining low strings raucously join in, soon to be chastised and silenced with remonstrations by the harp, flute, a solo violin, and eventually all the other instruments of the orchestra. Soon the high strings become nervously frantic along with a descanting flute and harp, only to be cut short as the movement ends abruptly. A quiet lazy postscript follows almost immediately, ending the symphony much as it began.

Having conducted Elgar's (1857-1934) symphonic prelude Polonia (1915) in 1957, the composer was inspired to write a nationalistic piece of his own, which he completed in 1959. Although it has the same name as the Elgar, which incorporates Polish patriotic songs along with a splash of Chopin (1810-1849), Panufnik's is a five-part suite based on country folk songs and dances.

The opening "Marsz góralski" ("Highlander's March") borrows one of those infectious tunes from the Tatra Mountain region of southern Poland (see the newsletter of 16 January 2007). Some colorful orchestration and tongue-in-cheek harmonization along the lines of Mozart's (1756-1791) Musical Joke (K 522, 1787) make it a totally captivating Highland fling that's hard to get out of your head.

An attractively lyricised slow-motion "Mazurek" ("Mazurka") and spikey "Krakowiak" are next. The latter is strangely reminiscent of the more syncopated dances in Copland's (1900-1990) cowboy scores.

Sinuous whistling melodies over a serpentine ostinato characterize the next section, "Piesn Nadwislanska" ("Song of the Vistula," see the newsletter of 29 June 2010), which honors Poland's longest river. It's in complete contrast to the crazed dance with which the piece ends. Known as an "Oberek," and typically performed by tipsy villagers in the wee hours of the morning, it brings this exceptionally original folk suite to a memorable conclusion.

The disc concludes with Kolysanka (Lullaby) for twenty-nine strings and two harps. Lasting only a little over seven minutes, it's hauntingly magic music worth getting this CD for alone! While the harps pluck out a repeated rhythmic vamp, the strings with their own independent parts like so many colored threads, weave a spellbinding, folk-related, pseudo-pentatonic tapestry replete with quarter tones. You'll find yourself playing it again and again!

As they did on their first release in this new CPO series, conductor Lukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra deliver magnificent performances of these pieces leaving what little competition there is in the dust. Once again they make such a strong case for this composer you'll find yourself anxiously anticipating volume three.

The recordings are equally spectacular as on volume one, which is not surprising considering the same venue and producers were involved (see the newsletter of 31 May 2010). You may find the string sound in the first symphony a might bright compared to the other pieces, but this is undoubtedly due to the atypical layout of the orchestra (see above). The "Highlander's March" by itself could well become an audiophile demonstration classic!

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100926)

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The album cover may not always appear.
Taubert, W.: Pno Concs 1 & 2; Rosenhain: Pno Conc; Shelley/Tasm SO [Hyperion]
With this 51st release in their "Romantic Piano Concerto" (RPC) series, Hyperion has once again turned over another rock, and look what's popped up! Contemporaries as well as good friends of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009), but much longer lived, German composers Wilhelm Taubert (1811-1891) and Jacob Rosenhain (1813-1894) were concert pianists who wrote a considerable amount of music.

Both were heavily influenced by Felix, to the point where critics of their day generally dismissed the three concertos on this disc as clones of Mendelssohn's. But that was a long time ago, and modern audiences will find enough of interest to make them a worthy addition to Hyperion’s burgeoning catalog of RPCs.

All are in the standard three movements, with the Rosenhain concerto composed sometime in the 1840s between the two by Taubert, which date from 1833 and around 1874 respectively. The earlier Taubert opens in typical Mendelssohnian fashion with a lively exposition wherein the tutti and soloist first share the honors. The piano then dominates with some delightfully fickle passagework accented by the orchestra, and the two introduce a couple of memorable melodies. These are subjected to a development notable for its modulatory adventurousness.

The closing recapitulation ends in the minor, transitioning directly into the wistfully romantic andante. This is made all the more doleful by some solo passagework for the oboe.

Full of pianistic pyrotechnics, the supercharged finale closely resembles Felix at his most hyperactive. But who cares, because this is beautifully crafted music good enough to be out of some long lost Mendelssohn concerto (see the newsletter of 21 December 2009).

Taubert gets his second effort off to quite a different start in the form of a two-part andante-allegro movement. The slow opening is drop-dead gorgeous, and leads right into a sprightly second section with some peripatetic modulations that are much farther-out than those usually found in Mendelssohn. The slow movement follows directly via a ritardando passage for the piano, which then states a lovely lilting melody. This is elaborated by the orchestra, and subjected to some charming transformations with the movement ending gracefully.

The bravura finale is a rondo with a high-voltage recurring idea. In cyclic fashion the composer alternates it with the theme which began the work, and ends the concerto in an ivory-tickling joyful flurry of notes.

There's a sense of drama about Rosenhain's concerto reminiscent of French Grand Opera from the first half of the nineteenth century. This is not all that surprising when you consider he wrote it while living in Paris, and was himself an opera composer.

The exposition of the opening allegro begins with a furtive march-like melody (FM) from the orchestra, which the piano expounds on. Some agitated passages then act as a bridge to a couple of comely lyrical ideas (CL) that owe allegiance to Schumann (1810-1856), while anticipating Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), or even Rachmaninov (1873-1943). A well worked out development with some arresting key changes follows. The movement then ends with a trick recapitulation wherein the CL themes appear before FM, which forms the basis of the anxiety-ridden concluding coda.

The andante begins with an idea some may find presages the opening of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) 1812 Overture written almost forty years later (1880). Rosenhain offsets it with a more lively counter-melody, creating a reverentially meditative movement from the two.

The finale commences with a perky tune that's closer to Mendelssohn than anything heard so far in this concerto, but with rhythmic accents and virtuosic displays more typical of Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Brilliantly orchestrated with brief solo passages for the winds, this exciting rondo gives the pianist frequent opportunities to strut his stuff, and ends the work in a bravura setting.

Our soloist for this release is Howard Shelley, who continues his invaluable exploration of little known keyboard works (see the newsletter of 20 August 2009). His performances are not only technically accomplished, but exceptionally spirited and highly articulate as befits this infectiously busy music. Wearing two hats, he also conducts from the keyboard eliciting magnificent support from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

As with most Australian productions, these recordings done in Hobart, Tasmania are very good. The soundstage is perfectly suited to the medium-sized orchestra present, and the instrumental timbre very pleasing to the ear with no sign of glare. The piano tone is well rounded, but the many intricate keyboard passages filling these scores might have been more articulate had the instrument been better highlighted.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100925)

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