CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
25 MAY 2011
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.
Andreae: Stg Qt, Stg Trio, Vn Son, 6 Pno Pcs; LocrEnLon [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This third installment in Guild's survey of Swiss composer Volkmar Andreae's (1879-1962) chamber music will be just as welcome a surprise as the first two (see the newsletters of 15 January 2008 and 23 July 2010). Best remembered in his day as a very successful conductor, this release proves once again his considerable abilities as a composer.
The program begins with an early unpublished string quartet predating the two numbered ones we told you about last July (see above). A student work written in 1898, it's in four immaculately structured movements that belie its youthful origin. Admittedly there are strong affinities with the quartets of Brahms (1833-1897) and Dvorák (1841-1904), but who cares with music of this quality!
Jumping ahead almost twenty years, we have the string trio of 1917, which is a much more progressive work with some of that tonal peripateticism typically found in Max Reger (1873-1916, see the newsletter of 30 March 2008). Written at the height of World War I (1914-18), there's a searching wistfulness about it which may reflect the composer's reaction to that conflict.
Written a few years after the quartet, his violin sonata (c. 1900) is an undiscovered treasure. Lasting almost half an hour, its three movements are each superbly crafted, and contain a number of memorable themes. The composer's style has become increasingly individualized. More specifically the work as a whole has the assurance of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) early chamber music along with a relaxed lyricism that seems to be an Andreae trademark. You'll not soon forget the radiant lento!
The set of six piano pieces from 1911 that complete the program is the Swiss counterpart of such keyboard snapshot albums as Schumann's (1810-1856) Carnaval (1833-35). Highlights include a skittering "Bacchantischer Tanz" ("Bacchic Dance") [track-6], lovely "Catalonisches Ständchen" ("Catalonian Serenade") [track-8], moving "Adagio" [track-9], and infectious Schumannesque "Unruhige Nacht" ("Restless Night") [track-10].
As with their previous Andreae recordings for Guild (see above), the Locrian Ensemble of London deliver superb performances of everything, again making a strong case for his music. Known for unearthing rare repertoire deserving much wider exposure, keep your eye out for more enterprising Locrian releases.
The recordings are clear, well balanced, and project a convincing soundstage. But the strings are occasionally wiry, and one can't help feeling a different venue, and/or microphone setup might have produced a warmer, richer instrumental timbre.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110525)
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De Elías, A.: Stg Qt 2 (w Campa, Carrasco & Lobato); LatAm Qt [Sono Lum]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Titled "Mexican Romantic Quartets," this album is a real find with music by four composers born between 1863 and 1920. The first one, Alfonso de Elías (1902-1984), is represented by his second string quartet of 1961. It's a lyrical, chromatic outpouring that will appeal to all romantics. The ghost of César Franck (1822-1890) floats through the piece, particularly the fourth and final movement where previous themes are recalled in cyclic fashion.
Next we have Three Miniatures for string quartet written in 1889 by Gustavo Campa (1863-1934). There's a Gallic charm and simplicity about the minuet and gavotte, while the closing theme with variations is gorgeous.
The most progressive music here, the quartet of 1958 by Domingo Lobato (b. 1920) is highly chromatic, but remains tonally grounded. It's a late romantic masterpiece with the second of its three movements featuring a beautifully played extended solo by the quartet's violist, Javier Montiel.
In the usual four movements, Alfredo Carrasco's (1875-1945) quartet dating from 1944 is the most romantic offering. With the subtitle "Cum granus (sic) salis" ("With a grain of salt"), it seems the composer is asking us not to take it too seriously. That's easier said than done, because it's a beautifully crafted piece with ties to Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Schumann (1810-1856) and Brahms (1833-1897). But despite its European leanings, the perky Latin-sounding closing rondo, titled "Del Folklore Mexicano" ("From Mexican Folklore"), leaves no doubt as to its nationality.
The Cuarteto Latinoamericano (Latin American Quartet) needs no introduction as they remain one of today's finest. This music is in their blood, and we're greatly indebted to them for introducing us to it. Those familiar with their Villa-Lobos' (1887-1959) recordings won't want to miss out on this one.
Recorded at a farm in Virginia, USA, one might expect less than ideal results. Not! The sonics are terrific with the quartet spread across a relatively wide soundstage that suits their rich tone and romantic program. The acoustic is warm, and the string sound crystal clear but musical with no glare. This disc will delight audiophiles as well as chamber music fans.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110524)
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Handel, G.F.: 8 Ovs (hpd), Hpd Stes HMV 450 & 454; Kitchen/Dbl-M Kirckman/Sngl-M Barton [Delphian]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Although George Frederic Handel (1685-1759) was born in Germany, and studied there as well as Italy, England would become his permanent home in 1712. Unlike his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), whose works were for the most part church-related, his output was much more worldly and included numerous secular operas and oratorios.
A virtuoso concertizer himself, Handel transcribed the overtures from many of these for solo keyboard with spectacular results as evidenced by the selections on this invaluable new release from Delphian. There are also two thrilling harpsichord suites, which will be new to most as they're not in either of the familiar sets of eight each published in 1720 and 1733 respectively. Incidentally, both of the instruments used here were built in London. The overtures are played on a double-manual one built by Jacob Kirckman in 1756, and the suites, a single-manual by Thomas Barton dating from 1709.
Stylistically speaking the overtures generally fall into either the French or Italian category, and will be so indicated by an "F" or "I" preceding their "HMV" number. The two that begin our program are from the oratorios The Occasional Oratorio (F, HMV 62, 1746) and Athalia (I, HMV 52, 1733). The former amounts to a four-part mini-suite with a catchy cock-a-doodle-doo allegro [track-2], and harmonically resplendent final march [track-4].
The latter is a sprightly offering whose closing allegro [track-7] may remind some of François Couperin's (1668-1733) Le tic-toc-choc... (Book 3, Order 18, No. 6, published 1722). It's followed by the overture to the opera Radamisto (F, HMV 12a, 1720), which concludes with a fireworks fugue [track-9].
Moving to the single-manual Barton harpsichord, the four-part suite in A (HMV 454, early 1700s) is next. There are a couple of queasy spots in the saraband [track-12, beginning at 00:44] which could be nonharmonic tones, or may indicate the instrument was in need of some touch-up tuning during the recording sessions. But all is forgiven with the ear-catching final gigue [track-13].
The oratorios Samson (F, HMV 57, 1743) and Saul (I, HMV 53, 1738) are represented next with two of G.F.'s finest overtures. The allegro [track-16] from the former recalls the second movement of Telemann's (1681-1767) concerto for four solo violins (TWV 40:202, c. 1735), while the concluding minuet [track-17] shows off a couple of the Kirckman's more colorful stops.
In four sections, the overture to Saul is the longest and most elaborate here. The opening allegro [track-18] anticipates the "Glory to God" chorus in Messiah (HMV 56, No. 17, 1742), but then again Handel was an inveterate mooch when it came to good ideas no matter who had them. There are more hints of Telemann (see above) in the penultimate allegro [track-20], and then the piece ends with a minuet [track-21] that's a Handelian melodic masterpiece.
Next it's back to the Barton for another suite, this time in G (HMV 450, early 1700s). It consists of a prelude and six dances, one of which is a gorgeous saraband [track-25] similar in spirit to the one in the previous suite. A plucky gigue [track-26] and courtly minuet [track-27] provide a lively ending.
The disc concludes with overtures to three early operas, Il Pastor Fido (F, HMV 8, 1712, revised 1734), Teseo [F, HMV 9, 1713], and Rinaldo [F, HMV 7a, 1711]. The allegro from the first [track-29] is a precursor of the ever popular hornpipe in the Water Music (HMV 348-350, No. 11, c. 1715-17, revised 1736). While the concluding bourrée [track-30] would become one of the most popular numbers in Sir Thomas Beecham's (1879-1961) beloved 1940s concert suite drawn from the opera.
The last two overtures are spirited offerings that give the soloist a chance to display his ornamental skills and digital dexterity. They provide the perfect ending to this elegant release, which might well have caused Sir Thomas to change his sentiments about harpsichords and amorous skeletons!
One of England's most distinguished keyboard artists, many know John Kitchen from his highly acclaimed organ recordings for Priory. Now his more recent releases on Delphian, including the one here, prove he's an equally accomplished harpsichordist. A master ornamenter with technique to burn, his renditions of these bravura pieces are thrilling.
Both instruments are captured in sparkling, well defined sound. The recordings project a generous, slightly recessed soundstage in the somewhat reverberant acoustic of St. Cecilia's Hall at the University of Edinburgh. Those familiar with George Malcolm's (1917-1997) discs of some years ago may find themselves wondering what these colorful selections might have sounded like on that incredible Goff harpsichord he used to play.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110523)
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Panufnik, A.: Orch Wks V3 (Sym 6 "Mistica", Autumn Music, etc); Dlugosz/Borowicz/Pol RSO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Unlike the first two volumes in CPO's survey of Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik’s (1914-1991) symphonic music (see the newsletters of 31 May 2010 and 30 September 2010), the selections on this third one find him in a generally more laid-back, mystical frame of mind. Three of the four works offered here were written in England, where he was granted political asylum in 1954, and would spend the rest of his life.
When the Nazis crushed the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, Panufnik lost everything he'd composed up to that time, including two symphonies. But he would eventually write ten more, and this CD begins with his Sinfonia Mistica (No. 6, 1977). It's meant to reflect his fascination with the mystery as well as beauty of geometry.
To be more exact, the figure of six circles perfectly surrounding an identically sized seventh (see the "kissing number problem" for two dimensions), which was for him a symbol of universal order and inner harmony, is central to it. Besides being the sixth of his extant symphonies, it's in six movements, and is harmonically and rhythmically based on factors of 6 (1, 2 and 3).
Generally speaking the symphony juxtaposes ethereal avian odd-numbered movements with wriggling ursine even ones, and ends with a romantically euphoric outburst for full orchestra. The overall effect is quite arresting, particularly after a couple of hearings.
Autumn Music of 1962 was written in memory of a friend who had died after a long illness. In three contiguous sections lasting about twenty minutes, it's highly symmetrical with subdued reverential opening and closing andantes that are similar in mood. They surround a middle presto whose second half is a mirror image of its first. It contains a repeated note on the piano, which like a ticking clock suggests everyone's days are numbered, and ends with a drumroll that segues directly into the closing andante. Some may find the piece brings Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration, 1888-89) to mind.
The next work, Hommage ŕ Chopin, was written in 1949 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of Chopin’s (1810-1849) death. Originally for vocalising soprano and piano, a number of versions would follow, and it's the one for flute and string orchestra of 1966 that's presented here.
Don't let the title fool you into thinking it's anything like Les Sylphides (1893)! On the contrary, rather than directly quoting any of his music, Panufnik simply bases it on Polish folk tunes he thought might have inspired Chopin. Accordingly it's a suite of five delicately scored pieces utilizing folk melodies from the Mazovia region of east-central Poland. And like the preceding selections on this disc, it's characterized by understatement as well as restraint.
The concluding Rhapsody of 1957 is a miniature three-movement concerto for orchestra. Like Autumn... above, it demonstrates the composer's love of symmetry with the opening and closing sections sharing the same thematic material. The subdued beginning introduces the various instruments with brief solos.
The middle section is a wild hybrid krakowiak-mazurka of the composer's own design where the whole orchestra cavorts about. With an imitation of a whinnying horse [track-16, beginning at 02:35], this movement is the most lighthearted music on the whole disc. It ends with a drumroll that transitions directly into the stately finale, which is initially for full orchestra. The instruments then gradually wander away, and the piece concludes quietly with a single double bass having the last say.
As on the previous two releases (see above), conductor Lukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra are featured here. They own this music, leaving what little extant competition there is in the dust. Flutist Lukasz Dlugosz sensitive playing and gorgeous tone turn Hommage... into a tiny masterpiece. Panufnik couldn't have better advocates -- bring on volume four!
Another Polish Radio production utilizing the same personnel and venue as the first two discs (see above), these recordings are equally spectacular. Despite a generous soundstage projected in a warmly reverberant acoustic, all of the many instrumental solos remain perfectly focused and balanced against the orchestra. The instrumental timbre is natural over the extended frequency range and dynamics created by Panufnik's brilliant scoring. Modern music enthusiasts and audiophiles will find much to their liking.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110522)
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Sandström, J.: Indri/Cave Canem, Éra, Ocean Child, Herrgĺrdssägen Ste; Lindberg/Ice SO [BIS]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The orchestral selections of Swedish composer Jan Sandström (b. 1954) on this new BIS release are the work of an extremely imaginative symphonic colorist. Minimally structured, they are free-form chromogenic happenings which at times may push the bounds of your understanding, but for the most part remain approachable and engaging.
The disc begins with his Indri/Cave Canem, which was composed at a villa on the island of Capri in 1988. A ten-minute tone picture, the first word of its title refers to a Madagascan lemur. The last two were written below the image of a chained dog, which appeared on a mosaic at the entrance to the villa.
Apparently the lemur bears no relationship to the piece. But the canine reference reflects the composer's stated intent to make the music analogous to a pack of wild dogs going wherever their noses lead them. Accordingly the rhythmically feral beginning and ending conjure up notions of wolves on the prowl. Hearing the dreamy central section, the lycanthropic image of one howling on a hill silhouetted by the full moon comes to mind.
The composer’s earliest orchestral work, Éra (1979-80) is next. We're told he derived the name from the ancient Greek word for "earth," and the piece was inspired by the Icarus myth as well as nightmares he'd had as a child.
Lasting about as long as the previous piece, the beginning is subdued and threatening. This is made all the more sinister by some seismic bass reminiscent of Jón Leifs' (1899-1968) geothermal creations, and Hekla (1961) in particular. The work builds slowly and inexorably via groundswells of sound reminiscent of Sibelius' (1865-1957) late works to a cataclysmic finale. Caution -- Secure all loose household items before playing!
Inspired by a snorkeling trip the composer took with his daughter, Ocean Child (1999, revised 2004), is another symphonic coloration lasting half again as long as either of the previous ones. He describes it as a tribute to life, curiosity, and childish naiveté. This seems born out by an overall melodic innocence combined with a rhythmic petulance that make it immediately appealing.
The final selection is the 2004 suite from his ballet En Herrgardssägen (A Mansion Legend, 1987) with a scenario (see the informative album notes) based on an 1899 literary work of the same name by Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940). The most structured, lyrical, and rhythmically capricious work here, it's in five sections.
Sibelius fans will have a déjŕ entendu feeling about a perky riff that appears very early on in the first number [track-4, beginning at 01:28] entitled "Blomgrens" (a group of street musicians in the story). It will recur throughout the whole section, sounding more and more like the opening of the Karelia Suite (1893), and is in fact an infectious deconstruction of same. It transitions right into the next movement, "Munkhyttan" (the name of a manor house estate), which is a similarly intriguing dismemberment of the first act waltz in Carl Maria von Weber's (1796-1826) Der Freischütz (1821).
The middle section, "Vinterstormen" ("Winter Storm"), slowly evolves into a psychedelic symphonic squall, recalling Sibelius' incidental music of 1925 for Shakespeare's (1564-1616) The Tempest (1610-11). As the clouds roll by we get a primitive priapic dance number subtitled "The He-Goat."
The sublime finale, which is labeled "Ingrid" after one of the main protagonists, is next. It starts off with a chorale-like melody [track-8, beginning at 00:16] followed by some otherworldly glissandi, shrieks and bubbling rhythms. The music then assumes a peaceful Sibelian character, ending the suite with a final crescendo of resurrection (see the notes).
Famed trombonist Christian Lindberg, who premiered the composer's immensely popular Motorbike Concerto (1986-89), hangs up his horn in favor of a baton to conduct the Iceland Symphony Orchestra (ISO, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011) on this disc. A close friend of the composer, and totally devoted to his music, he gives us mesmerizing performances of it, whipping the ICO up into frequent tsunamis of sound.
The BIS engineers make his efforts all the more rewarding by giving us spectacular recordings of everything. Requiring a huge orchestra with a massive percussion section, the soundstage projected is wide and exceptionally deep. Although housed in the reverberant acoustic of Iceland’s Háskólabíó Concert Hall, there seems to be no loss of instrumental clarity or focus.
The high end is comfortably bright and at times titillatingly tinkly. The lows occasionally reach earthshaking levels, but remain well controlled. Sandström's Technicolor scoring will test the limits of the most sophisticated sound systems. Audiophiles won't have to dust their speakers for a week!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110521)
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Tansman: Cl Conc, Conc (ob, cl & stgs), 6 Mvmts (stgs); Soloists/Blaszczyk/Siles ChO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Over the past couple of years, we've recommended several orchestral works of Polish composer Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986, see the newsletters of 11 May 2009 and 22 November 2010), and the selections on this new release from Naxos are noteworthy additions. All three were written after he returned to Paris from Los Angeles, where he'd taken refuge during World War II (1939-1945). The two concertante pieces are world premiere recordings, and none too soon as they're some of his most sophisticated, heartfelt music.
The clarinet concerto from 1957 is in three movements. The first one is of slow-fast-slow design with pensive outer parts, which include some richly appointed melodic writing for the soloist, as well as a quirky motif [track-1, beginning at 02:42] somewhat like one in Debussy's (1862-1918) First Rhapsody for Clarinet and Orchestra (1911). They surround a sprightly central allegro section with a neoclassical economy of means recalling Stravinsky (1882-1971) of the early 1900s.
The lovely arioso that follows seems to be an afterthought to the preceding movement, and serves to introduce the concluding one, which begins with a soaring cadenza for the clarinet. The orchestra then launches into an engaging folkish dance with slightly sinister connotations [track-3, beginning at 01:32]. Soloist and tutti wriggle about in an engaging manner, and then the concerto ends matter-of-factly on a positive note.
The concertino for oboe, clarinet and strings composed in 1952 is “polystylistic,” and deviates considerably from the usual concerto structure. In six movements, it comes off more like a divertimento or serenade from classical times. The infectious opening overture [track-4], flighty scherzo [track-6], and fugal "car-horn" finale [track-9] have an appealing neoclassical brusqueness, anticipating Martinu's (1890-1959) oboe concerto of three years later (1955).
The pastoral dialogue [track-5] for the soloists is quite impressionistic, while the two elegies [tracks-7 & 8] are moving passacaglia-like laments right out of the Baroque. They may reflect the composer's state of mind over his wife's having been recently diagnosed with what turned out to be terminal cancer.
The disc concludes with Tansman's Six Movements for Strings from 1962-63, which could be considered the Polish counterpart of Swiss composer Frank Martin's (1890-1974) five Études for String Orchestra (1955-56). The Tansman opens forebodingly, but suddenly comes to life with colorful polytonal, highly chromatic passages. A subdued dirge and then a virtuosic tour de force in the form of a scurrying rhythmic "perpetuum mobile" (PM) follow.
The piece concludes with an airy intermezzo, catchy syncopated pizzicato-laced scherzo, and fugal finale having thematic elements harkening back to PM. The closing measures [track-15, beginning at 04:17] resemble the opening of Ernest Bloch's (1880-1959) Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1924-25).
Clarinetist Jean-Marc Fessard is superb, at times producing a burnished auburn tone that's to die for [track-1, beginning at 01:32]. Oboist Laurent Decker is an equally talented accomplice in the concertino, and both receive magnificent support from conductor Miroslaw Blaszczyk and the Silesian Chamber Orchestra. The latter go on to give a performance of Six Movements... which raises the bar for today's string ensembles.
As with the Panufnik release above, the Polish audio engineers triumph again, giving us immaculately clean, well balanced recordings. The soundstage projected is just the right size and in the ideally warm, reverberant acoustic of Karol Stryia Hall, Katowice, Poland. The soloists are perfectly captured, and the string tone is very natural with only an occasional hint of grain. Interesting repertoire and superb sound make this a must for modern music buffs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110520)
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