CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
22 JUNE 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.
Dohnányi: Sym in F, Ste en valse, Zrínyi Ov: Kovács/Misk SO [Hung]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Hungaroton has unearthed a treasure-trove with this release of three orchestral rarities by Hungarian composer Ernö von Dohnányi (1877-1960, see the newsletter of 30 May 2008). These include world premiere recordings of an early symphony as well as an overture, and the only currently available CD version of a delightful suite of waltzes. This disc easily qualifies as one of the best finds to come along so far this year.
Written in 1895, the symphony predates the earlier of his two numbered ones (1900-01 and 1943-44) by five years. In the usual four movements and grounded in Brahms (1833-1897) and Dvorák (1841-1904), it seems simpatico with Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) music of the time. It begins with a magnificent stately theme (MS) that immediately catches the listener's attention, and dominates the opening allegro. The following lyrical adagio is notable for an idea [track-2, beginning at 02:26] that may bring to mind the "Ode to Joy" melody in Beethoven's (1770-1827) Choral Symphony (No. 9, 1822-24), as well as the last movement of Brahms' first symphony (1856-76).
There's a bit of Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009) in the brief bustling scherzo. And then it's on to the final movement, where MS is reprised and serves as an introduction to some lively memorable tunes. They form the basis for a thrilling whirlwind coda that ends the symphony in a vortex of optimism.
The more sophisticated Zrínyi Overture of the same year is a nationalistic effort commemorating the valiant exploits of Hungarian soldier-statesman Miklós Zrínyi (1620-1664). Magyar folk elements predominate right from its portentous heroic opening. A case in point is a theme that appears early on [track-5, beginning at 02:27], which sounds related to the same tune Brahms used in the first of his Hungarian Dances (1852-1869).
And speaking of Brahms, there are some militaristic passages with a bass drum that could almost be out of his Academic Festival Overture (1880, see the newsletter of 8 June 2011). They're interspersed with some Eastern-sounding music recalling Zrínyi's battle with the Turks. The piece then ends in a final triumphant peroration extolling Magyar valor.
The Suite en valse dates from 1943 and consists of four, three-quarter-time treats. This was one of the last works Ernö would write in Hungary, and it was premiered there just before his emigration to America, where he'd teach at Florida State University, Tallahassee for ten years. By his own admission it's meant only to entertain, and in that respect there's a "pops" air about it recalling Alexander Glazunov's (1865-1936) two concert waltzes (1893-94).
The opening "symphonique" and closing "fęte" waltzes are delightful, melodically inventive, structurally sophisticated numbers. The middle "sentimentale" and "boiteuse" ("halting") ones are tunefully wistful and rhythmically tipsy, respectively. Collectively they could be considered a four-movement dance symphony.
Conductor László Kovács and the Miskolc Symphony Orchestra take this music to heart, delivering loving performances of it that every romantic must hear. One can only wonder why it's taken so long for these captivating pieces to surface, but better now than never!
The recordings are quite good, projecting a wide, deep soundstage in the reverberant acoustic of the Hungarian Miskolc House of Arts. Depending on your system, some may feel the midrange is a bit recessed, but the overall instrumental timbre is pleasing with only an occasional hint of digital grain in the highs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110622)
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Mathias: Vn Sons (3); Trickey/Llewelyn-Jones [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Most consider William Mathias (1934-1992) Wales' most influential twentieth century musical figure. He was a revered educator and concert organizer, as well as a pianist, conductor and prolific composer. Equally at home writing sacred or secular music, we've already told you about his organ works (See the newsletter of 12 March 2009) and symphonic dances (see the newsletter of 27 November 2009). Now Naxos regales us with his three violin sonatas.
Of prime interest here will be the world premiere recording of an early sonata [tracks-8, 9 and 10] predating his two numbered ones. An amazingly accomplished three-movement work written in 1952, it's hard to believe it came from the pen of a seventeen-year-old. The opening allegro is alternately impetuous and melodically romantic. A winsome contemplative andante follows, and then an inventive finale where one can imagine tolling bells and scurrying church mice.
The first sonata of 1961 [tracks-1, 2 and 3] is also in three movements, and begins with an attention-getting seven-note tone row on the piano. But this is not a serial work, and the mood soon becomes more lyrical as the movement ends somewhat impressionistically. The lento that's next is a delicate rhapsody based on an engaging extended melody, which at one point [track-2, beginning at 02:25] sounds folk related.
The infectious dance-like finale is notable for a central idea [track-3, beginning at 01:10] not far removed from "Golliwog's Cakewalk" in Debussy's (1862-1918) Children's Corner Suite (1906-08). With not a wasted note you'll find this sonata exceptional for it's lucidity.
The four-movement second sonata (1984) [tracks-4, 5, 6 and 7] is a grander, more virtuosic undertaking than the first, but that overriding sense of clarity characterizing the former remains. It begins with a five-note wake-up call (FW) on the violin that's the thematic cell from which the whole sonata grows. The opening allegro is a dramatic study in contrasting motifs, while there's a Slavic twitchiness about the following vivace reminiscent of Shostakovich (1906-1975).
Mathias once again uses FW as the introduction to the tragic adagio, which takes on the character of a funeral march. This slowly fades, and some whimsical passages for the violin segue directly into the final allegro. Here hyperactive outer sections recalling the second movement surround a slow haunting central episode. The sonata ends with a display of fireworks as the violin skyrockets into the blue.
One couldn't ask for more technically accomplished, sensitive playing from the soloists featured here. Violinist Sara Trickey and pianist Iwan Llewelyn-Jones deliver impeccable performances that leave one hoping they'll soon give us additional lesser known sonatas in need of resuscitation.
The recordings were made at Champs Hill, West Sussex, which is one of Britain's finest small chamber music venues. Housed in this vibrant acoustic, the two instruments are projected across a relatively wide soundstage, which contributes all the more to the overall clarity of Mathias' lean, no-nonsense scores. A silvery rather than silken violin and percussively well-rounded piano heighten the inherent poignancy of these sonatas.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110621)
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Noskowski: Orch Wks V2 (Sym 2 "Elegiac", Commemorative..., Vars on...; Borowicz/Pol RSO [Sterling]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A couple of years ago Sterling released an outstanding CD of orchestral works by Polish composer Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909) that included the first of his three symphonies. This was a student work written in 1874 as opposed to its immediate successor completed four years later, which they now give us on this follow-on volume.
Subtitled "Elegijna" ("Elegiac"), his second symphony (1875-79) is in the usual four movements with nationalistic associations recalling Poland's strife-torn political past. The opening moderato immediately introduces a sinister tragic motif (ST) [track-1, beginning at 00:24], which will pervade the whole work. This, along with a more lyrical idea [track-1, beginning at 05:55], are subjected to an intense development-recapitulation that ends the movement in a fateful coda.
The antsy folk-derived scherzo is rhythmically related to the krakowiak (see the newsletter of 25 May 2011), and anticipates Dvorák's (1841-1904) Slavonic Dances (1878 and 1886). It's interrupted on a couple of occasions by the brass intoning a heraldic idea tinged with ST. This hints at the following elegia movement, which is a moving lament again recalling ST.
The finale is more of a pastiche of patriotic sounding tunes than one of those rigorously developed last movements typically found in romantic symphonies. An insistent variant of ST tries to establish itself at the outset, but is soon upstaged by references to the Polish National Anthem (aka Dabrowski's Mazurka) [track-4, beginning at 01:29]. The two themes then battle it out with the latter victorious as the symphony ends in a triumphant blaze of nationalism.
Next we have another patriotic offering, the Odglosy Pamiatkowe (Commemorative Sounds) of 1904-05. This is a suite in seven connected sections based on Polish songs and marches. It opens with a brilliant orchestration of a polonaise (c. 1777) by Polish general Tadeusz Kosciuszko (1746-1817), whom some may remember was also a hero of the American Revolution (1775-83).
Two gorgeous arrangements of songs, a perky march miniature, and another lovely rhapsodic ditty follow. The suite ends with a common time, high-stepping number, and then a festive dance. The latter is based on a mazurka celebrating the Poles' initial victory over the Russians in the November Uprising of 1830-31.
The disc is filled out with Variations in E minor on an Original Theme, which was written sometime before 1883. Lasting only about eight minutes, it's a concise work with a wistful songlike main subject (WS) that's the subject of five imaginative variations and a finale. It concludes dramatically with hushed foreboding strokes on the timpani that give way to skittering strings, and a forceful restatement of WS by the brass. Some brief fugal fireworks erupt in the final measures, ending the piece in a state of romantic urgency.
Having already distinguished themselves with their recent Panufnik (1914-1991) releases on CPO (see the newsletter of 25 May 2011), conductor Lukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (PRSO) now give us rousing performances of this more romantic fare. Careful dynamic shading and attention to orchestral detail preclude its becoming overly sentimental nationalism.
Another Polish Radio production utilizing the same technical personnel and venue as the CPOs mentioned above, these recordings are equally good. Once again a generous soundstage is projected in a warm reverberant acoustic with the orchestra remaining perfectly focused. The instrumental timbre is natural over the entire frequency range, but with a bit more emphasis on the highs than was the case with the Panufnik CDs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110620)
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Pejacevic: Sym, Conc Fant (pno & orch); Banfield/Rasilainen/RheinPfSt P [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The CPO folks have really outdone themselves with this disc of discovery featuring some of the first and most important romantic symphonic music to come out of Croatia. Not only that, it's by a woman composer!
Born in Budapest of a Hungarian mother and Croatian father, Dora Pejacevic's (1885-1923) family moved to Zagreb in 1903. She received her early musical training there until 1907, when she undertook further studies in Dresden and Munich. An outstanding pianist and violinist, she also composed, but her unfortunate death at the age of thirty-eight cut short her creative efforts.
Consequently she left us only four orchestral works; namely a piano concerto, overture, symphony and concert fantasy, the last two of which are included on this release. The four movement symphony dates from 1916-17, and at almost fifty minutes represents a substantial contribution to romantic literature of that genre. Granted there's a melodic naiveté and prolixity about this music, but if anything it makes it all the more lovable.
The first movement, which is the longest, begins searchingly soon gaining momentum and sweeping the listener along with a number of memorable tunes. A chromatically captivating development and dramatic recapitulation concluding in a tempestuous coda follow, ending the movement in a burst of romantic energy.
The elegiac andante opens with some moving melancholy ideas for the winds. It builds to a tragic crescendo, only to fade away much as it began. But Dora extricates us from the preceding doleful quagmire with a dancelike scherzo, which seems inhabited by Dvorak's (1841-1904) Water Goblin (1896).
The finale is a cyclic masterpiece Franck (1822-1890) would have highly approved of, where all the thematic chickens from previous movements come home to roost. Pejacevic builds it into a towering edifice with an exciting final coda in the Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) tradition.
The Phantasie Concertante for Piano and Orchestra of 1919 certainly qualifies for Hyperion's ever-growing "Romantic Piano Concerto" series. It's a through-composed, fifteen-minute rhapsody that ranks right up there with such other little-known keyboard curiosities as Moritz Moszkowski's (1854-1925) piano concerto (1898). A delightful romantic wallow, it anticipates the likes of Hekel Tavares' (1896-1969) Concerto in Brazilian Forms (1936), Richard Addinsell's (1904-1977) Warsaw Concerto (1941), and Sir Hubert Bath's (1883-1945) Cornish Rhapsody (1944).
German pianist Volker Banfield is superb with bravura, panache and technique to burn. Finnish conductor Ari Rasilainen and the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic of Germany give him unqualified support, and play up a romantic storm in the symphony. They give it that little extra interpretive nudge, which turns what might have been an everyday score into a thrilling piece.
Although the orchestra and venue for this disc are the same as the Röntgen recommendation below, different technical personnel were involved, and it shows! The soundstage seems a bit compressed by comparison, and there's some digital grain in upper violin as well as forte piano passages. Also Herr Banfield's magnificent playing would have come across even more effectively had he been highlighted a bit more.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110619)
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Röntgen: Vn Concs 1 & 3, Ballad (vn & orch); Ferschtman/Porcelijn/RheinPfSt P [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The Röntgen (1855-1932) revival on CPO (see the newsletter of 31 October 2009) continues with this release of violin concertante works written over the last thirty years of his life. A Leipziger by birth and training, who moved permanently to the Netherlands in 1877, he was truly a cosmopolitan composer with a strong interest in the music of his immediate contemporaries, which included that by Franck (1822-1890), Brahms (1833-1897), Borodin (1833-1887), Grieg (1843-1907), Debussy (1862-1918) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949).
He also kept abreast of such up-and-coming composers as Stravinsky (1882-1971) as well as Hindemith (1895-1963), and was even intrigued by the dodecaphony of the Second Viennese School. But except for a couple of experiments with atonality towards the end of his life, he found it "unmusical," and never resorted to it himself.
In the standard three movements, the first of his three violin concertos (1902) is a beautiful work, which in its romantic conservatism harkens back to those from 1844 and 1878 by Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Brahms. The opening allegro is notable for violin writing that stresses melody rather than virtuosity.
An exceptionally rapturous lento follows, and couldn't be more different from the rambunctious finale, where the centerpiece is a commanding medieval folk song (CM) [track-3, beginning at 03:02]. The concerto ends in an impressive flurry of fiddling with allusions to CM.
Coming just at the end of World War I (1914-18), the fifteen minute Ballad for Violin and Orchestra of 1918 is next. Despite a brief joyful episode towards the beginning [track-4, beginning at 04:10], its predominantly despondent tone may reflect the composer's concern over other members of his family still living in Germany. The mood turns a bit more optimistic towards the end with a shift from minor to major [track-4, beginning at 12:10], but there seem to be lingering doubts about the future in the closing measures.
The program concludes with the third of his violin concertos, which is a very late work completed in 1931 not too long before his death. In three movements like the first, it's a much more progressive piece with an emphasis on virtuosic writing for the violin. The beginning moderato is out of Brahms with a hint of that chromatic peripateticism characterizing Max Reger (1873-1916, see the newsletter of 30 March 2008). Towards the end of the movement, there’s a killer cadenza for the soloist.
While the andante is another rhapsodic outpouring similar to the slow movement in the first concerto, it's more tonally adventurous with magic moments like those one gets from such German Expressionists as Franz Schreker (1878-1934, see the newsletter of 20 November 2006). It sets the listener's mind at ease, and ready for the demonically capricious finale. This gives the soloist a chance to strut their stuff, and shows the seventy-six-year-old composer was still young at heart. It adds an ingratiating light touch, making this one of the composer's most lovable creations.
A student of the great Herman Krebbers (b. 1923), Dutch violinist Liza Ferschtman finesses all three works. And Röntgen champion David Porcelijn, who's once again at the helm of the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic of Germany (see the newsletter of 16 April 2007), provides her with outstanding support. One couldn't ask for more committed, technically accomplished performances.
The recordings are quite good, projecting an ideally sized soundstage in a warm acoustic. Ms. Ferschtman's violin is perfectly captured and balanced against the orchestra, whose timbre is for the most part quite musical. However, those with systems favoring the high end may notice a bit of brightness in upper violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110618)
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Rufinatscha: Sym 6, Bride of Messina Ov; Noseda/ BBC P [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
In the past Chandos has uncovered some remarkable musical treasures (see the newsletter of 15 April 2009), and this one is no exception. Austrian composer Johann Rufinatscha (1812-1893) will be new to most readers, but he was highly regarded in Vienna as a teacher and composer. Preferring to spend most of his time in the classroom, he was not that prolific, and what we have here is a sampling of his limited symphonic output.
The concert begins with a his overture Die Braut von Messina (The Bride of Messina, 1850) after Friedrich Schiller's (1759-1805) play (1803). Lasting about fifteen minutes, it was written for the concert hall without any operatic purpose in mind.
The foreboding opening smacks of Beethoven's (1770-1827) more tragic overtures, but the mood soon lightens with an attractive melody reminiscent of Schumann (1810-1856) [track-1, beginning at 01:21]. Heroic brass flourishes and pounding timpani introduce a dramatic development section. The work concludes with menacing horn calls anticipating the anxiety-ridden finale, where a motif of hope [track-1, beginning at 11:19] is overtaken by fate as the overture ends in abrupt ambiguity.
Next we have the last of his six symphonies (the third is lost, and its successor survives only in a four-hand piano arrangement). Written around 1865, and in four movements totaling almost an hour, this is a big romantic work. It opens with a slow imposing introduction that may bring to mind the beginning of Schubert's Die Zauberharfe (The Magic Harp, 1820) overture, which he'd later use as the opener for his incidental music to Rosamunde (1823).
Momentum gradually builds, and a perky upbeat theme like the one that canters through the last movement of Schubert's Great Symphony (No. 9, 1827) appears [track-2, beginning at 02:47]. Another majestic idea with a sweep that anticipates Elgar (1857-1935, see the newsletter of 15 September 2007) soon follows [track-2, beginning at 04:16] capped off by a thrilling apothegmatic riff (TA) [track-2, beginning at 05:52]. An imaginative development ensues, and then a dramatic recapitulation ending in a sensational coda based on TA.
The innocent, good-natured scherzo puts one in mind of a folk festival taking place in some village nestled in the Austrian Alps. It contrasts nicely with the laid-back, emotionally charged largo that's next. This sets the tone for the rigorously constructed finale, which has the harmonic density of Brahms along with passages that again augur Elgar (see the newsletter of 15 March 2008). It provides a rousing conclusion to a memorable symphonic curiosity that thanks to Chandos once again sees the light of day.
With this CD conductor Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic continue their invaluable ongoing survey of rare symphonic repertoire (see the newsletters of 9 June 2009 and 23 July 2010). One couldn't ask for better performances, which is just as well because we're not likely to get any others in the foreseeable future.
As on their previous releases the recordings are very good, projecting a generous soundstage housed in the optimal acoustic of Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, England. The orchestral timbre is for the most part quite natural with brilliant highs and solid bass. That said, some listeners may find themselves wishing this had been a hybrid disc where the SACD tracks might have produced silkier sounding violins.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110617)
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