CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
27 JULY 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.
Carwithen: Ov, Excs and Stes fm 7 Film Scores (arr P.Lane); Sutherland/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A few years ago we told you about some outstanding film music suites by British composer William Alwyn (1905-1985, see the newsletter of 9 March 2006), and here's an equally engaging collection of tidbits from scores for the silver screen by his wife, Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003). Born into a musical English family, Doreen began piano and violin lessons at age four, and would eventually study at the Royal Academy of Music, where William was one of her teachers.
Between 1947 and 1955 she scored thirty-four films, seven of which are represented here in premiere recordings of arrangements done by English composer-musicologist Philip Lane (b. 1950) in 2002-03. Many will remember him for his remarkable reconstructions of several long lost scores by Richard Addinsell (1904-1977) based on the original film soundtracks, and the selections on this disc are equally accomplished.
The program begins with an overture Lane fashioned from the principal themes Carwithen wrote for the 1954 Hammer Films movie The Men of Sherwood Forest. Apparently one of those cases where the music outshone the film by several orders of magnitude, its heroic opening and closing surround a lovely arboreal central passage.
The three-part suite from Boys in Brown (1949) is a more sinister affair that reflects the film's criminal aspects. The mood brightens only briefly in the last section as the credits roll by.
The composer's first film assignment came in 1947 when she wrote music for the opening titles and closing scene of the 1948 short feature To the Public Danger. About the perils of drunk driving, Lane reworks the score into a frenzied, fatal car crash "prelude" followed by a grief-stricken "apotheosis."
Next a charming fifteen-minute continuous span of music for the travelogue documentary East Anglian Holiday of 1954 (see the informative album notes for more detailed descriptions of all these film's contents). You'll find it a pastoral tone poem in the tradition of Delius (1862-1934, see the Delius recommendation below and newsletter of 29 September 2009) and Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).
Two tripartite suites from the full-length features Mantrap and Three Cases of Murder, both released in 1953, follow respectively. The first begins threateningly, which is not surprising considering the film is also a murder mystery. There are a couple of more cheerful spots in the opening section, however a sense of doom permeates the next as well as most of the last. Just before the end, the music shifts to a triumphant major key as the killer gets his just deserts, and all's well that ends well.
The second suite opens expansively with an optimism that soon turns ominous. A daintily scored gavotte with an impishness suited to Alfred Hitchcock's (1899-1980) more bizarre moments is next. The suite then concludes with a commanding waltz.
The CD ends with music from another documentary, Travel Royal, dating from 1952. Commissioned by BOAC in hopes of encouraging foreign tourists to fly to Britain, the director requested Carwithen to use as many old familiar English tunes as possible. And she's done just that, underscoring all the famous British landmarks appearing in the film with them.
England's renowned cathedrals are represented by the old nursery song "Oranges and Lemons," which extols bells in churches around London. Perspicacious listeners will also pick up on the composer's droll reference to Albert Ketèlbey's (1875-1959) Bells Across the Meadow (1927) [track-13, beginning at 03:03].
The timeless "Greensleeves" crops up towards the suite’s end [track-13, beginning at 06:09] as other historical British sites appear on screen. It provides the perfect conclusion to this memorable collection of English film music that easily stands on its own without any visual support (see the newsletter of 6 July 2011).
Unlike the Sturm und Drang scores many Hollywood composers churn out, these are noteworthy for their lyrical restraint, sensitivity, and pastel coloring. All of these qualities are magnificently realized in elegant performances by the BBC Concert Orchestra under conductor Gavin Sutherland. Ms. Carwithen couldn't have better advocates!
Made in legendary Abbey Road Studio One, the recordings project a vast soundstage. While the orchestral timbre is quite musical, the highs are at times pronounced. However, this is probably for the best as it adds instrumental focus to Carwithen's cultivated scores, which could easily become awash in such a spacious venue.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110727)
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Delius: Life's Dance, Irmelin Ste, Poem..., Village Romeo... Ste; Lloyd-Jones/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Following their very popular Hiawatha release (see the newsletter of 29 September 2009), Dutton gives us another CD of symphonic selections by English composer Frederick Delius (1862-1934), which include two recording firsts. One of these, Poem of Life and Love (1918), is the original version of what would later become the much shorter A Song of Summer (1929-30). The other is a significantly revised rendition of an orchestral suite from the opera A Village Romeo and Juliet (1900-01).
Around 1899 Delius wrote a symphonic poem, which premiered that same year in London with the title The Dance Goes On. He then modified it in 1900-01, and the new version, now called Lebenstanz, received performances in Cologne (1903) and again London (1908). But the composer was still not happy with the ending, so in 1912 he came up with a third and final rendering known as Life's Dance, which is what we have here.
Delius was a great admirer of Fredrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) as evidenced by his choral masterpiece A Mass of Life (1898-1905) motivated by his philosophical writings. Conceived about the same time as the mass, this also holds for Life's Dance, which lies somewhere between a rondo and theme with variations. It's based on a youthfully boisterous idea [track-1, beginning at 00:17] that undergoes a series of moody transformations. These range from introspective to amorous, joyful, heroic, and in the end, deathly as the music succumbs to Nietzchian nihilism.
One of Delius' biggest champions was the inimitable Sir Thomas Beecham (1879–1961), who in 1953 came up with the orchestral suite that's next. Drawn from music for the second act of Frederick's first opera Irmelin (1890-92, currently unavailable on disc), it's in five contiguous sections. The dreamy first begins with one of those unmistakably Delian sighing themes (DS) [track-2, beginning at 00:38], which will recur throughout the piece.
Brass fanfares that may bring Wagner's (1813-1883) more apprehensive moments to mind dominate the angst-filled second part. But a sense of pastoral peace characterizes the third where DS returns, briefly taking on big tune status. This gradually subsides into the amorously ecstatic fourth and triumphant final section, which ends with euphoric memories of DS.
In 1918 Delius wrote Poem of Life and Love, which he would continue to tinker with until his health began to fail in 1925. Then, with the arrival of his amanuensis Eric Fenby (1906–1997, see his book Delius As I Knew Him) in 1928, the two of them reworked its central pages into the familiar A Song of Summer.
Thanks once again to the efforts of Delius authority Robert Threllfall, who realized the performing version of Hiawatha mentioned above, we have here the original complete 1918 work. And none too soon, because it comes off as a moving dramatic expansion many may find preferable to the later abridgement.
The disc concludes with another operatic suite, this time by David Matthews (b. 1943, see the newsletters of 15 April 2009 and 23 February 2011) from A Village Romeo and Juliet, which many consider Delius' finest stage work. Originally done some twenty years ago (1987-88) on a commission from conductor-composer Carl Davis (b. 1936), Matthews has changed it considerably to what we have here. More specifically he's replaced passages based on the all too familiar section of the opera known as The Walk to the Paradise Garden with lesser known, but in the context of a work solely for orchestra, more emotionally fulfilling music from the concluding scene.
In two sections, each formed from a pair of loosely joined spans, the opening [track-8] is Delius at his pastoral best. It flows right into a gorgeously amorous second span [track-9], which ends the first half of the suite rapturously. The last section [track-10] begins with ebullient bell-like passages, which underlie a village fair in the opera. The festivities wind down, transitioning into the final span [track-11], now drawn from the opera's dramatic conclusion and the Liebestod (Love-Death) of its two young lovers.
It was our conductor here, David Lloyd-Jones, who suggested Matthews revise his suite. And the enthralling rendition of it he gets here from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra will more than likely convert those loving the old version to the new one. The other selections are given equally impressive performances in which Lloyd-Jones totally captures that pervasive litheness so unique to Delius' music.
The recordings were done at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, and project a broad, deep soundstage in a vivifying acoustic. The orchestral timbre is accordingly clear with bright spots moderated to some degree by Delius' velveteen scoring.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110726)
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Gaubert, P.: Chevalier et la Damoiselle (cpte bal); Soustrot/Lux PO [Timapni]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Until recently Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) was best remembered as a conductor, and exceptional flutist who wrote a considerable amount of music for that instrument. But he also composed some very distinguished orchestral works, which thanks to the enterprising Timpani label have come as a welcome surprise to deep catalog classical enthusiasts who thought they had everything.
As a follow-on to their highly acclaimed release from a couple of years ago (see the newsletter of 18 December 2008), they now give us the complete score for his ballet Le Chavalier et la Damoiselle (The Knight and the Damsel, 1940), which was the last and reputedly greatest of his symphonic creations. It's in the tradition of such romantic French choreographic curios as Lalo's (1823-1892) Namouna (1882), Dukas' (1865-1935) La Péri (The Fairy, 1912), Pierné's (1863-1937) Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (Cydalise and the Satyr, 1923), Roussel's (1869-1937) Bacchus et Ariane (1930), and Poulenc's (1899-1963) Les animaux modèles (The Model Animals, 1941).
In two acts, it takes place during the Middle Ages, and concerns a beautiful princess under an evil spell that turns her into a doe every night. She can only be freed from it by meeting a man who will "make her know suffering."
The opening prelude begins with a commanding six-note ostinato (CS) that recurs throughout the ballet. It serves to unify it, and is soon followed by a Renaissance-sounding pavane (see the newsletter of 17 November 2007) [track-1, beginning at 02:31].
The first dance, which is spiked with a dash of polytonality, introduces the Princess in her daytime human form along with three pages [track-2]. But as night falls she joins a group of deer at the edge of the woods, suddenly turning into a doe [track-3].
Some lovely selections laced with beautiful solo flute as well as violin passages follow, during which the Doe-Princess encounters a Knight errant, and is changed back to human form (see the informative album synopsis for details) [tracks-4, 5 and 6]. The act then ends joyously in a stunning pas-de-deux with references to CS as the two fall in love [track-7]. In the final moments, the pages return and carry the princess off.
The second part begins with a mournful entr'acte featuring a lovely violin solo, during which the Princess pines for her lost Knight, and organizes a tournament in hopes it'll bring him back to her [track-8]. Several colorful rustic selections follow, including a piquant oboe-spiced pastoral [track-9], a haughty Renaissance-inflected peasant offering [track-11], and a delicate Medieval dance somewhat like the minuet in Henri Büsser's (1872-1973) orchestration of Debussy's (1862-1918) Petite Suite (1886-89). There's also a charming whimsical number for a shepherd and shepherdess [track-14].
The ballet's conclusion is highlighted by an impressive Gothic dance [track-16], and three exciting jousting episodes where CS is reprised and varied [tracks-17. 18 and 19]. The Princess and Knight are then reunited in an amorous waltz [track-20] followed by a brief nostalgic reminder of her four-legged nights [track-21]. The work ends as the village folk honor the happy couple in a festive high-stepping frolic with cyclic hints of CS [track-22].
The Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra under Marc Soustrot does the honors here, giving us what will undoubtedly be the definitive recording of this balletic rarity for some time to come. Calling for a great deal of solo work, the Luxembourgers come through with flying colors except for a couple of queasy violin moments. But not to worry, because you'll be so taken with the music they'll most likely pass unnoticed.
The recording is clear, projecting a pleasing soundstage in a warm acoustic. The instrumental timbre is quite musical, but some may find the high end a bit brittle, and the bass far from overpowering, which may be more a reflection of Gaubert's immaculate orchestration.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110725)
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Lajtha: Stg Qts Cpte V4 (2 only), Pno Qnt; Granik/Auer Qt [Hung]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This release concludes Hungaroton's survey of László Lajtha's (1892-1963) ten string quartets (see the newsletters of 13 August 2008 and 12 April 2010). Hailed today as one of Hungary's most influential twentieth century musical personalities, he was an accomplished pianist, conductor, composer and scholar, who became Bartók's (1881-1945) closest associate when he helped him collect Eastern European folk music.
A staunch anti-communist, he underwent great hardships while Hungary was under the long arm of Communism. These included the suppression of his music, which has only recently begun to gain the acceptance it deserves.
Dating from 1926, and in four movements, the second quartet begins with a leisured pentatonic melody that's the subject for the fugally developed opening andante. Except for a brief skittish central episode, there's a Gallic ease about this movement that may reflect Lajtha's earlier studies (1911-13) with Vincent d’Indy (1851-1931, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011).
The next presto alla marcia is an animated catchy caper having a neoclassical profile. Bristling with fickle rhythms and intervals of a fourth, it's prickly as a porcupine, and the exact opposite of the rapturous, titillatingly queasy andante that follows.
Although of fugal construct like the first movement, the final vivace is fleet and saucy, giving all four performers a real workout. Tension is maintained throughout, and the quartet ends with some whinnying scales and peckish pizzicato, adding a final hint of cynicism.
The disc is filled out with Lajtha's first surviving chamber work, the piano quintet of 1922. Atypically it's a one movement stream of consciousness lasting almost forty minutes [track-6], and bears the subtitle "Dramma per musica." Unfortunately the composer never revealed what that meant, but it seems much in keeping with the emotionally charged score. One gets the feeling it would have made a moving late romantic tone poem had he ever orchestrated it.
Roughly divisible into six connected "moodments," if you will, the piano dominates the piece, which begins like a concerto with a whiff of that pentatonism present in the previous quartet. After some Bartókian pizzicato [04:22], a fugal conflict breaks out, escalating into a brilliant contrapuntal development. This concludes the first "moodment" and serves to introduce the rhapsodic second [08:09].
It's followed by a sinister, mysterious third [11:20], and scherzoesque fourth [17:15] containing Magyar folk-tinged expressionistic central passages [18:23-24:21]. The fifth [26:08] is alternately pensive and playful. While the scale-swept last "moodment" [31:33] is wrenchingly melancholy with an epilogue [35:12] that ends the piece much like it began.
As on their previous CDs in this series, the members of the award-winning, Budapest-based Auer Quartet deliver impeccable performances. With an inbred feeling for this music as well as technique to spare, they're able to elucidate these mutable scores, and make sense out of the inherently nebulous quintet. Also pianist Anna Granik gets a big round of applause for her flawless incisive playing of the latter.
For the most part the string tone is natural sounding and the piano well rounded except for some upper register digital graininess in forte passages. As noted before, the Hungaroton studio where all of these recordings were made must have been rather small as the sound is pretty dry. One can't help feeling the music would have bloomed a bit more in a wetter acoustic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110724)
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Van Hoof: Sym 2, Remembrance Ov, Perseus Ov; Venkov/Janá PO [Phaedra]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Tiny Belgium has given us several outstanding romantic composers, the most famous being César Franck (1822-1890) who at age twelve moved to Paris, where he'd spend the rest of his life. Then there are Paul Gilson (1865-1942), Lodewijk Mortelmans (1869-1952, see the newsletter of 27 November 2009) and Jef van Hoof (1886-1959), who studied with the former two and wrote the selections featured here.
He’s no stranger to these pages, as we told you about his third symphony (1944-45) a while ago (see the newsletter of 16 April 2007), and here's the second along with a couple of concert overtures. All three works should have great appeal for those loving the music of Wagner (1813-1883), Franck and Glazunov (1865-1936).
The concert begins with Herinneringsouverture (Remembrance Overture, 1917). Written during World War I (1914-18), militaristic elements predominate right from the start with a rousing reveille-like opening theme that will recur throughout the piece. It's followed by two other attractive ideas based on a Flemish folk song and a melody borrowed from Belgian composer Peter Benoit's (1834-1901) oratorio De Schelde (The River Scheldt, 1868) respectively.
These are subjected to a thrilling development where Van Hoof honors Belgium's war allies with snippets of "La Marseillaise" (see the newsletter of 6 July 2011), "God Save the King" (see the newsletter of 25 November 2008), and "God Save the Tsar" (see the newsletter of 28 February 2010). Whistling woodwinds and flashing cymbals rocket skywards concluding the work with a triumphant fireworks display.
Oddly enough a theme towards the end of this overture [track-1, beginning at 09:32] presages one of the main cues in Laurence Rosenthal's (b. 1926) exceptional score for the 1981 film The Clash of the Titans, whose subject matter is the same as for the next selection. Billed also as an overture, but more like a tone poem, Perzeus (Perseus) of 1908 [track-2] honors the exploits of that Greek mythological hero who slew the Gorgon Medusa, and married the beautiful Andromeda.
A brilliant score obviously influenced by Wagner, its seven themes are listed by the composer on the manuscript and called leitmotifs. Although not specifically identified in the album notes, all are dramatic with the most memorable a bold heroic tune (Perseus?) [beginning at 01:08] that recurs frequently. Together with an amorous variant (Andromeda?) that soon follows [beginning at 01:53], they dominate the piece, providing the nitro for the dynamite finale. Incorrigible romantics will love it!
In the usual four movements, the second of Van Hoof's six symphonies was written in 1941 during World War II (1939-1945) with the words "The whole world is gone -- wiped off this world" inscribed on its title page. Accordingly the opening moderato seems full of nostalgia for happier times. It’s based on a liltingly wistful idea (LW) [track-3, beginning at 01:05] that takes on a variety of attractive guises, combining Franckian chromaticism with Glazunovian tunefulness. The movement ends pessimistically recalling LW.
The mood brightens somewhat in the rhythmically zealous scherzo, only to darken in the grave that follows. This is grief-stricken with despairing timpani rolls and closing fatalistic horn calls.
Hopes for better days seem to fill the strutting final allegretto, where there’s an element of Josef Suk's (1874-1935) march Towards a New Life (Op. 35c, 1919-20) from his World War I triptych (1919-20, see also Op. 35a and 35b). It ends the symphony optimistically.
The Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) under Ivo Venkov give performances brimming over with enthusiasm for this colorful, undeservedly neglected music. Their rendition of the symphony now becomes the preferred one. They make a strong case for those who've not done so to investigate this composer's other symphonic works.
The recordings were made in the JPO concert hall, and present an ideally proportioned soundstage in a lively acoustic where there's no loss of clarity. The orchestral timbre is naturally musical with an attractive sparkle. Audiophiles will not be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110723)
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Zelenski: Stg Qts 1 & 2; FourStgs Qt [Acte Préal]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
With this release, Acte Préalable producer Jan Jarnicki once again (see the newsletter of 6 July 2011) gives us more undeservedly neglected Polish chamber music. Namely two string quartets by Wladyslaw Zelenski (1837-1921), who was a distinguished pianist, conductor and educator, as well as an accomplished composer. Any fortunate enough to have gotten his knockout piano quartet when it appeared on CD in the late 1990s (currently unavailable), will be overjoyed with this disc. And those who don't know his music are in for a delightful discovery.
The earlier of his two quartets, which was probably written around 1880, is a four movement work that adheres to the usual romantic allegro-andante-scherzo-allegro game plan. Skillfully written, there's an emotional intensity and structural integrity reminiscent of Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets (1810-1826). Searching intensity characterizes the first movement, while the somber second is a moving theme and variations whose main idea seems of Polish folk origin.
Except for a brief central moment of introspection, the antsy scherzo chases its own tail much to the listener's amusement. It sets the tone for the whimsical rondo finale, which has a lovely recurring lyrical idea [track-4, beginning at 01:01:24] that will leave you smiling.
No date is given for the second quartet, which is dedicated to the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). Also in four movements, it's a bit more progressive than its predecessor from the harmonic standpoint, while still adhering closely to well-established classical forms. A good case in point is the opening movement, which is an elegant conventionally structured sonata allegro with a chromatically convoluted development. You'll find its melodic ideas are rooted in Mendelssohn (1809-1847), but hint at Polish folk sources.
A perky intermezzo with melodies of occasional Slavic-sounding inflection follows, and then a gorgeous cantabile, which shows Zelenski at his tuneful best. The attractive allegro finale begins with a hyper ditty that could be of folk dance heritage, succeeded by a beautiful melancholy melody. The two ideas are tossed about and finally intertwined to end the quartet in what might best be described as a state of rustic nostalgia.
Following their highly acclaimed premiere recording for Acte Préalable of Zygmunt Noskowski's (1846-1909, see the newsletter of 22 June 2011) first two quartets (1874-75 and 1879-83), the Four Strings Quartet now give us this equally desirable album with Zelenski’s. Any technical shortcomings are well compensated for by their enthusiastically committed performances. They play this music with Slavic soul and great sensitivity.
The recordings are good, and project a generous soundstage in a lively acoustic that will appeal to those preferring wetter sonics. The strings are captured in shimmering detail, revealing all the intricacies of this meticulously crafted music.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110722)
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