CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
17 AUGUST 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.
Arnell: Stg Qts 1-5; Tippett Qt [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
We've followed the Dutton revival of British composer Richard Arnell's (1917-2009) symphonic music very closely in these pages (see the newsletter of 26 January 2011), and now they give us another outstanding release with the first five of his six string quartets. All world premiere recordings, the same high level of inspiration and craftsmanship is present, guaranteeing twentieth century chamber music fans a disc of discovery they'll not soon forget!
The first quartet of 1939 is a youthful masterpiece. In only one nine-minute movement, it's based on a couple of cellular ideas that are developed in a number of sophisticated ways. Without a wasted note, it comes off like a four-movement quartet that's been condensed into a musical bouillon cube. The fade-out conclusion ends the piece ambivalently, leaving the listener searching for answers.
Arnell's next effort in this genre came two years later. In three movements the second quartet (1941) begins with an allegro notable for its energy and rigor, followed by a lyrical, emotionally reserved andante. The final presto is supercharged, making considerable demands on the players, and ends the piece with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders. There's a practicality throughout recalling Hindemith (1895-1963) and the concept of Gebrauchsmusik.
The year 1945 saw the completion of his third quartet, also in three movements. More in the spirit of the late romantic, it's not as tonally itinerant as its predecessors, and the only one here whose title includes a key (E flat major). The opening allegro boasts a couple of melodically winsome themes that are skillfully developed, and ends in an unresolved state. This sets the stage for a meditative, somewhat disembodied lento, where each of the instruments come to the fore in what sometimes sounds like the third "Heiliger Dankgesang..." ("Holy Song of Thanksgiving...") movement from Beethoven's (1770-1827) fifteenth string quartet (Op. 132, c. 1824-25).
The twitchy final poco presto teases the ear while giving the performers a chance to demonstrate their technical prowess. With a recurring idea [track-7, beginning at 00:59] somewhat like the Dies Irae (see the newsletter of 6 July 2011), this "rondoesque" movement concludes the quartet in a state of feverish jubilation that finds Arnell at his best!
In 1950 the composer came up with his fourth quartet, which is another nine-minute, concentrated one-movement work like the first (see above). Based on an opening four-note motif (FN), it's more sophisticated than its predecessor with a lyricism and relaxed developmental flow that add all the more to the music's appeal. The gossamer FN-laced conclusion is magical.
In seven mini-movements lasting about fifteen minutes, the fifth quartet of 1962 is a unique Arnell construct that comes into its own on second or third listening. The opening allegro [track-9] begins with a robust seven-note theme (SN) similar in spirit to the first bars of Beethoven's Grosse Fuge (1826). SN is tossed about, and then the movement ends uneventfully after only a minute and a half. Variants of SN then become the basis for a fascinating combination canon-passacaglia [track-10], followed by an anguished tonally oriented developmental episode [track-11].
The next three mini-movements, a lento [track-12], vivace [track-13] and moderato [track-14], take on a concertante aspect, featuring solos, duos and trios respectively. Then all four players come together in the final allegro [track-15]. At first boisterous and rhythmically churning, calm soon prevails with a fleeting cello solo recalling SN. This ends in a violin-reinforced shriek, concluding the quartet with the musical equivalent of Edvard Munch's (1863-1944) The Scream (1893).
One last thought regarding this piece. As the informative album notes point out, its unorthodox structure anticipates fellow countryman and contemporary Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) third string quartet (1975). If you like the Arnell, and don't know the Britten, by all means check it out.
Formed and named in memory of Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998) shortly after his death, the Tippett Quartet (see the newsletter of 23 February 2011) certainly do justice to these formerly closeted works. Their incisive, technically accomplished performances capture all the peculiarities of these atypical quartets, all of which represent a significant contribution to the body of recorded twentieth century chamber music.
Recorded in St. Paul's Church, London, the soundstage projected is wide and equally deep with some reverberant backwash. Despite the latter, each instrument remains in sharp focus to the point where the string tone is a bit edgy. This may also relate to the disc’s being cut at a relatively high level.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110817)
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Bacewicz: Vn Concs 2, 4 & 5; Kurkowicz/Borowicz/Pol RSO [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Back in 2009 Polish-born violinist Joanna Kurkowicz introduced us via a Chandos release to three of her fellow countrywoman Grazyna Bacewicz's (1909-1969) seven violin concertos (see the newsletter of 9 September 2009). One of the most interesting contemporary discs to appear that year, all of us who heard it have been anxiously awaiting a sequel, and here it is with another three!
This leaves just the sixth numbered concerto outstanding. Only in manuscript form and never published, if it's anything like what's here, we can only hope some enterprising musicologist will soon realize a performing version of it.
The concertos on this disc are each in three movements, and cover a narrower time span (1945-1954) than the previous ones (1937-1965). But like them, they still represent the composer’s three stylistic periods of development.
The second concerto [tracks-7 through 9] of 1954 falls into the first of these where neoclassical influences are rife. This undoubtedly stems from Grazyna's time in Paris during the 1930s when neoclassicism was all the rage and she, like her compatriot Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986, see the newsletter of 25 May 2011), studied with Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979, see the newsletter of 22 November 2010).
The hyperactive, wiry opening allegro begins with a syncopated motif [track-7, beginning at 1:08] that harkens back to Baroque times, and hints at François Couperin's (1668-1733) Le tic-toc-choc... (Book 3, Order 18, No. 6, published 1722). Considerable demands are made on the soloist, including an extended killer cadenza effortlessly dispatched by Ms. Kurkowicz. A twitchy perfunctory ending concludes the movement much like it started.
The andante is a romantic throwback to the soundworlds of Karlowicz (1876-1909, see the newsletter of 16 January 2006) and Szymanowski (1882-1937, see the newsletter of 16 January 2007). It provides a wistful breather before the kinetic vivo finale. Beautifully orchestrated and filled with fiddle fireworks, this is a perpetuum mobile that leaves a trail of ionized notes, and the smell of burning horsehair.
The outstanding fourth concerto [tracks-1 through 3] of 1951 is a good example of Grazyna's middle style. It was written just after the Polish government began subjecting composers to Soviet bureaucrat Andrei Zhdanov's (1896-1948) "anti-formalism" doctrine (1946-48), which admonished them to write music more accessible to the proletariat.
It seems Bacewicz took this somewhat to heart as the opening allegro is in the more immediately appealing grand romantic tradition, and full of Slavic soul. Richly orchestrated and agreeably lyrical, there's a demanding introspective cadenza sensitively rendered by our soloist. The movement concludes in a flurry of excitement, ending with a sudden bellicose expletive.
In the andante the violin sings a heartrending aria over an orchestral accompaniment that's an amalgam of the more vaporous passages found in Debussy's (1862-1918) Nocturnes (1900) and Szymanowski's second violin concerto (1933). It builds to a fateful climax that quickly fades into a grief-stricken cadenza, and final coda with the violin intoning a last note of hope.
The concluding vivace is a folk-dance-flecked, dramatically orchestrated romp in free sonata form. Highly virtuosic it gives both Prokofiev (1891-1953) and Shostakovich (1906-1975) a run for their money, and must have thrilled even the most plebeian of audiences.
By 1954 Communist cultural constraints had dissipated to the point where Polish composers felt able to express themselves more freely. Accordingly the fifth concerto [tracks-4 through 6] of that year reveals Bacewicz in the third and final stage of her stylistic development. It's the most progressive music here with a harmonic as well as thematic austerity bordering on the caustic.
The first movement is a complex, no-nonsense structure without a wasted note that holds the listener's attention right from its arresting neoclassical opening measures. It's a darkly intense, emotionally charged confrontation between soloist and orchestra with another superbly played extended cadenza, this time in a more rhapsodic vein. The movement ends with a rising figure on the harp [track-4, beginning at 08:18] followed by a starburst coda.
And speaking of stellar objects, the otherworldly andante would be ideal music for one of those cosmic planetarium presentations. With a celestial beginning and ending surrounding a central swirling nebulosity, this is the composer at her most sonically sophisticated. It brings Szymanowski's more ethereal creations to mind.
Except for a brief cantabile episode [track-6, 01:24 through 02:22], the concluding vivace is a wild-and-woolly notion riddled with folk twists. It has the melodic bounce of Paganini's (1782-1840) caprices (1801-07) spiked with the Slavic energy of Martinu (1890-1959, see the newsletter of 15 May 2008), Lutoslawski (1913-1994) and Pendercki (b. 1933, see the newsletter of 7 January 2009). Delightfully irreverent, it brings the concerto to a cheeky conclusion, leaving little doubt that Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) was one of the twentieth century's most accomplished women composers. Now how about her four symphonies, Chandos!
Once again we owe violinist Joanna Kurkowicz a great vote of thanks for resurrecting more of these unjustly neglected works. As we noted before, she's a brilliant artist with technique to spare, and an obvious love as well as exceptional feel for this music. Be sure to read her informative performer's note in the album booklet for a much better appreciation and understanding of a composer whose time for rediscovery has come.
Conductor Lukasz Borowicz and the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, who've already distinguished themselves in these pages with their ongoing Panufnik (1914-1991) symphonic survey for CPO (see the newsletter of 25 May 2011), provide Ms. Kurkowicz ideal support. Together they unleash all the rhythmic energy and dynamism lurking in these scores.
A Chandos/Polish-Radio production utilizing the same technical personnel and venue as the Panufnik discs, this one is equally spectacular. It projects a generous soundstage in a warmly reverberant acoustic with the soloist perfectly highlighted against the orchestra. This also holds for the numerous groups of solo instruments which pop up in these colorful concertos.
Ms. Kurkowicz' string tone is silky smooth, and the orchestral timbre totally natural over the extended frequency range and dynamics created by the composer’s vibrant instrumentation. The only nitpick would be a little blurring in the case of the bass drum. Besides that, this disc delivers some of the best sound modern music enthusiasts and audiophiles could ever hope for. Make sure to bring it along on your next high-end shopping expedition.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110816)
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Ferrara: Preludio, Fantasia tragica, Notte di tempesta, Burlesca; Vecchia/Rome SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Italian-born and trained, Franco Ferrara (1911-1985) was one of Italy's most promising conductors. But his concert hall appearances ended in 1946 when he began suffering from what may have been a psychosomatic disorder that was never satisfactorily diagnosed (see the informative album notes for further details). He then turned to conducting studio recordings that included soundtracks for some of Italy’s legendary films, to wit La strada (1954) and La dolce vita (1960).
However, he was to make an even greater contribution to the world of classical music when in the early 1960s he began giving conducting classes. He became the "maestro dei maestri" ("maestro of maestros"), who would eventually have over six hundred students, among them such greats as Riccardo Muti (b. 1941), Sir Andrew Davis (b. 1944), Myung-Whun Chung (b. 1953) and Riccardo Chailly (b. 1953).
An excellent violinist and pianist too, Ferrara was also a prolific composer, four of whose orchestral works make their recorded debut on this enterprising release from Naxos. With only forty-seven minutes playing time, this disc is not exactly a Filene's Basement bargain, but the Naxos bill of fare and music's desirability make up for it.
The concert begins with two grief-stricken selections. Preludio (no date given) is an intensely moving lament. While Fantasia tragica (c. 1962) could be considered a baleful tone poem bearing more than a passing resemblance to the third "In memoriam" movement from Shostakovich's (1906-1975) The Year 1905 Symphony (No. 11, 1957).
Equally as powerful as the Shostakovich, at one point [track-2, beginning at 04:48] the fantasia may bring some of Bernard Herrmann's (1911-1975) monster music (see the newsletter of 31 March 2011) to mind. There's also a fragmentary reference in a minor key [track-2, beginning at 09:50] to the principal theme from the slow movement of Haydn's Emperor Quartet (Op. 76, No. 3, c. 1799).
In 1922 this would become the melody for the German National Anthem, commonly known today as "Deutschland über Alles." Accordingly it probably signifies the tragic consequences World War II (1939-1945) and the German occupation of Italy (1943-45) had on that country.
The symphonic poem Notte di tempesta (Night of the Tempest, no date given) is next. Brilliantly orchestrated and of cinematic temperament, one can imagine the opening measures limning a beautiful sunset and summer evening. But dark clouds soon gather, unleashing a tempest with howling winds accompanied by flashing percussion and brass.
The storm gradually abates in passages that seem to take their cue from Wagner (1813-1833), and culminate in a heroic idea reminiscent of "The Sword Motif" from the Ring cycle (1869-1876) [track-3, beginning at 11:29]. Ferrara builds this into a towering, chorale-like climax somewhat reminiscent of the "Hymn to the Great City" that concludes Glière's ballet (1875-1956) The Bronze Horseman (1948-49). The piece then ends in a valorous euphoric coda.
The mood further lightens with the final selection, Burlesca of 1932. An engaging ten-minute scherzoesque gem, its whimsical outer sections feature some fetching thematic material, and recall lighter moments in Respighi (1879-1936, see the newsletter of 1 March 2007) and Casella (1883-1947, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010). The comely lyrical central one will sweep you off your feet.
Conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra follow their acclaimed survey of Casella's symphonies with this equally impressive disc of Ferrara's music. Despite an occasionally queasy horn, Maestro La Vecchia elicits emotionally charged performances of these pieces that never become romantic wallows.
Made at two different locations in Rome, the recordings are well matched, presenting wide soundstages in suitably resonant venues. All the details of this Technicolor music come through with crystal clarity, but at the cost of an orchestral timbre slanted towards the high end.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110815)
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Sauret: Vn & Pno Wks (Scenes..., Souvenirs... (2), Farfalla, Scherzo...; Wiancko/Vainshtein [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Born twelve years after the death of Paganini (1782-1840, see the Bacewicz recommendation above), Émile Sauret (1852-1920) was first and foremost an internationally renowned French violin virtuoso frequently mentioned in the same breath with the great Italian master. A student of celebrated Belgian violinists Charles-Auguste de Bériot (1802-1870, see the newsletter of 20 December 2006) and Henri Vieuxtemps (1820-1881), he also studied composition with Salomon Jaddassohn (1831-1902, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011) in Germany. And it's in his capacity as a composer that he's represented here.
While these selections for violin and piano are far from profound, it would be a great mistake to simply dismiss them as superficial salon music! Beautifully structured and with great melodic appeal, they'd melt the heart of the most captious critic.
The four movements making up his Scènes villageoises (Village Scenes, 1895) would have made ideal encore pieces, and may well have served as such by Sauret. They include a gorgeous morning reverie ("Le matin") complete with avian twitters, rustic rhapsody ("Pastorale"), Saturnian song ("Vielle chanson"), and an infectious village dance ("Danse") with hints of church bells as well as a hurdy-gurdy. This is effervescent music that's bound to please!
Souvenir de Los Angeles (Souvenir of Los Angeles) was possibly written for a series of concerts Sauret gave there in 1875. It's a Paganiniesque concertino lasting about eight minutes loaded with enough double-stopping to challenge an octopus. After a brief doleful introduction, it turns into a bravura showpiece that undoubtedly allowed the composer to wow audiences with his prodigious technique. Yet despite all its virtuosic superficiality there's an underlying melodic integrity that makes it much more than a note-strewn bauble.
A set of six more souvenirs follows, but this time from the East, which the composer undoubtedly visited on his many worldwide concert tours. Souvenirs d’Orient (Souvenirs of the Orient, no date given) begins with a colorfully developed impression of Constantinople, followed by three fetching dances notable for their catchy tunes and rhythms. The collection concludes with a gentle barcarole ("Gondoleira"), succeeded by a capricious en-pointe-like number ("A Péra”) possibly inspired by something the composer experienced at the Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul.
Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) immortalized the bumblebee in his opera The Tale of the Tsar Sultan (1900), and Sauret does the same for the butterfy in Farfalla (no date given). Its moth-and-flame-fluttering outer sections have a lightness of touch comparable to the last movement of Paganini's La Campanella Violin Concerto (No. 2, 1826). They surround a soaring inner episode, making this flight of fancy one of the most charming violin showpieces to come out of the romantic era.
The concert concludes with the highly dramatic Scherzo fantastique (Fantastic Scherzo, c. 1880). This is a rather demonic sounding eleven-minute koncertstück, lying somewhere between Tartini's (1692-1770) Devil's Trill Violin Sonata (Op. 1, No. 4, 1734) and the suite-trio Stravinsky (1882-1971) extracted from his L'histoire du soldat (1919). It ends this treasurable Sauret sampling on an intriguing infernal note.
The names of violinist Michi Wiancko and pianist Dina Vainshtein may not be household words at this early stage in their careers, but if this disc is any indication they may soon be! Written by one of the greatest violinists who ever lived, these works represent a real challenge, which Ms. Wiancko meets head on! She delivers silver-toned, technically flawless performances of these selections that capture all their charm without allowing them to degenerate into mundane palm court fare.
She couldn't have a better partner than Ms. Vainshtein, who plays the perfect supporting role in these fiddle-dominated pieces. More specifically, she exercises a perfect balancing act between artistic reserve during bravura violin passages as opposed to compelling dramatic assertiveness when the piano is spotlighted.
Made in the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto, Canada, the recordings are excellent, projecting a comfortably proportioned soundstage in a lively acoustic ideally suited to these violin zingers. The string tone is bright but musical, and the piano well-rounded with what may be some occasional action noise. Those wanting a good duo demonstration disc need look no further!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110814)
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Sinding: Vn & Orch Wks Cpte (Concs 1-3, Ste..., Romanze, etc); Bielow/Beermann/HanNDR RP [CPO]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
Nowadays Norwegian-born Christian Sinding (1856-1941) is best unremembered for one of those old familiar tunes everyone knows, but can't name let alone tell you who wrote it. The melody in question is Rustle(s) of Spring, which is the third of six piano pieces, Op. 32 of 1896 (complete set currently unavailable on disc), and just a drop in the bucket compared to Christian’s many extended symphonic creations.
The enterprising CPO label began exploring these a couple of years ago (999502 and 999596), and now they give us this invaluable release with his complete works for violin and orchestra. A two-CD set, it includes what are probably the only currently available modern day recordings of his second and third violin concertos, as well as a version of Abendstimmung (Evening Mood) with orchestra.
Sinding showed an early aptitude for music, later studying in Germany where Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011) and Carl Reinecke (1824-1910, see the newsletter of 14 May 2007) were among his mentors. During his years there he came under the influence of Wagner (1813-1883) and Strauss (1864-1949), which shows in the works here that date between 1886 and 1915.
Taking them in chronological order, the Suite im alten Stil (Suite in Old Style) [disc-2, tracks-4 through 6] was originally written in 1896-97 with a piano accompaniment, which Sinding later expanded for orchestra (1906). In three movements it opens with a dazzling presto where the violin flits above the orchestra. A lachrymose adagio follows, then an angular lyrical finale with a demanding cadenza and harmonically adventurous ending.
He wrote his first violin concerto [disc-1, tracks 6 through 8] in London and Paris during 1897-98. A span of three loosely connected movements, the opening allegro seems at first to take a lesson from the last movement of Brahm's (1833-1897) one effort in this genre (1878). But expansive Nordic melodies reminiscent of Halvorsen (1864-1935, see the newsletter of 8 June 2011) as well as Wagnerian harmonies soon surface, giving this a unique Sinding sound.
The movement ends in an off-the-wall deceptive cadence, after which there’s a pregnant pause followed by a stately andante. This is an arresting free-form passacaglia with thematic links to the previous allegro, and arguably the most innovative movement in any of the concertos. It transitions suddenly into a brilliant rondo finale with cyclic snatches of past ideas. There are also a couple of memorable new ones, including an inspired big tune number. The concerto then concludes excitedly with some violin pyrotechnics as soloist and tutti race to the finish.
Legende (Legend) [disc-1, track-4] of 1900 is a rapturous outpouring with Wagnerian overtones. At only about seven-minutes, it's one of Sinding’s most enchanting creations, and brings to mind the music of his friend Frederick Delius (1862-1934, see the newsletter of 27 July 2011).
Written about the same time and premiered the next year (1901), the second violin concerto [disc-2, tracks-1 through 3] is the most extensive of the three, with a first movement lasting almost as long as the remaining two. What the opening sonata form allegro may lack in melodic inspiration it well compensates for with a structural integrity that’s highly satisfying.
As with the preceding concerto there are thematic links to the andante that’s next. A sense of brooding Scandinavian reserve make this very moving. However, the mood brightens in the festive dance-like finale, where a folkish atmosphere at times reminiscent of Grieg (1843-1907) prevails. But unlike his compatriot, Sinding never actually quotes any songs or dances, preferring to infuse his own material with folk mannerisms.
In 1910 he wrote the nine-minute Romanze (Romance) [disc-1, track-5], which must rank as one of the most appealing violin miniatures to come out of the early twentieth century. After a wistful opening, the violin enters hesitantly, but gradually gains confidence spinning out an extended melody in Straussian fashion. An ardent development follows and the work ends much in the same mood as it began.
Another tiny gem Abendsstimmung (Evening Mood) [disc-2, track-7] came five years later (1915). Pastorally peaceful on the surface, there's an underlying sadness in this more harmonically progressive reverie. It may well reflect the hardships brought on the composer by World War I (1914-1918), and a feeling of alienation over the increasing trend towards more modern sounding music. Incidentally the timing of 21:01 on the album back panel should be 06:28.
The third and last of his violin concertos [disc-1, tracks-1 through 3] dates from 1916-17, and is again in three movements. It's structurally impressive with an initial allegro that gets off to an even more Brahmsian-sounding start than the one which opens the first concerto. There’s also a whiff of Dvorák (1841-1904) as the movement ends.
Like the other concertos, the andante has thematic links to the opening movement. It's a rather somber affair with subdued winds, a melancholy violin and hushed timpani rolls possibly indicative of growing anxiety on the composer’s part over world events.
But apparently not one to let circumstances get the best of him, Sinding gives us a "smiley" finale with some winsome melodic ideas. These include an invigoratingly bouncy opening number and an amorous cantilena, which allow the soloist to display his feathers. An exciting coda with heroic trumpet calls ends the work on a real high.
A few years ago many of us who heard Russian-born violinist Andrej Bielow's (also spelled Andrey Bielov) spirited rendition of the Gypsy violin music in Franz Lehar's (1870-1948) Zigeunerliebe (Gypsy Love, 1910), hoped we'd soon have a chance to sample his artistry in a more extended concerto role. Well, here he is as soloist for all seven of these Sinding selections, and he doesn’t disappoint, delivering ardent accounts of everything.
He receives enthusiastic, totally committed support from the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic under Frank Beermann. Together they make a strong case for CPO's continuing revival of this forgotten Norwegian composer's music.
A CPO/North-German-Radio (NDR) production, the recordings were made in two different NDR studios, and discerning listeners will notice slight differences in the soundstage and violin image projected by each. The third concerto, Legende and Romanze were done in the larger of these, and the orchestra is slightly veiled with the soloist fairly far forward and to the left. The other pieces are characterized by a somewhat brighter, more transparent sound, but with the violin farther back and more centered.
The violin tone and orchestral timbre are very musical throughout, but audiophile purists may feel the soloist could have been better highlighted. And while we're on the subject of sonic nitpicks, there are a couple of low frequency murmurs possibly due to local city traffic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P110813)
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Stanford: Pno Trio 1, Pno Qt 2, Legend, 6 Irish Fants (3 & 5); Adams/Gould Pno Trio [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The Gould Piano Trio continue their investigation of rarely heard chamber music by British composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007) on this new CD from Naxos. These are all world premiere recordings except for the trio. And we have the Gould to thank for resurrecting the quartet, which was never published. Prior to their revival of it last year, it probably hadn't been performed publicly since 1914!
The concert opens with the first piano trio of 1889, which Stanford dedicated to his good friend, the legendary pianist and conductor Hans von Bülow (1830-1894). In four immaculate movements, the influence of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) is evident right from the start. This figures considering Sir Charles studied in Germany between 1874 and 1876 with Joseph Joachim (1831-1907), who was a close associate of Johannes, and highly revered his music.
The initial sonata form allegro is very lyrical, and opens with a couple of attractive ideas, which are subjected to an emotionally charged development. A glowing recapitulation and spirited final coda end the movement, anticipating the capricious allegretto to come. It's a quirky scherzo-like offering reminiscent of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) in his more quixotic "Eusebius and Florestan" moments. Delicate and fleeting, it never outstays its welcome, and is the exact opposite of the graceful minuet movement that's next.
The concluding allegro is a sonata-rondo with a pair of recurring themes that are infectiously manic and melodically subdued respectively. They are co-developed and ultimately blended together in a stunning recapitulation with a final coda that ends the trio in a blaze of light.
The six-minute Legend for violin and piano from 1894 follows. It's based on a wintry reserved idea (WR) that may suggest Grieg's (1843-1907) more Northern moments. There is a hint of spring when an antsy variant of WR appears briefly [track-5, beginning at 02:26], but Jack Frost ices the final pages.
Next up, the only two of Stanford's Six Irish Fantasies for violin and piano (1894) currently on disc. "Jig" (No. 3) is a miniscule theme with variations, and "Irish as Paddy's pig" (see the newsletter of 10 March 2011). "Hush Song" (No. 5) is a lullaby with delicate chromatic colorations, and finds the composer at his folk-inspired best.
Now for the pièce de résistance, the second piano quartet completed in 1913. As noted above, this was never published, and appears here thanks to the editing efforts of musicologist Jeremy Dibble (see the newsletter of 27 November 2009).
The beginning sonata form andante must rank with the composer's most engaging movements. Its anguished introduction has seeds of two main ideas that soon blossom forth in the opening statement. The frantic first one (FF) [track-8, beginning at 00:47] is in a minor key as opposed to the radiant second (RS) [track-8, beginning at 01:37], which is in the major. They undergo a rigorous development, followed by a trick recapitulation, where FF returns unexpectedly in the major, and RS, the minor. Eventually they find their proper keys, and the movement concludes in a matter-of-fact manner.
There would seem to be Hibernian folk elements present in the winsome adagio, which opens with a lovely lilting melody (LL) [track-8, beginning at 00:27]. A brief nervous central passage [track-9, beginning at 02:39] anticipates the agitated scherzo that's next. Here some virtuosic deviltry involving all the players surrounds a comely trio section with a catchy ditty most likely of folk origin.
The final allegro begins with a confident angular melody perfectly suited to the transitional, step-wise modulatory episode that's next. It introduces the second subject [track-11, beginning at 01:12], which has embedded references to LL. An extended development follows, and then an ebullient recapitulation with cyclic hints of FF as well as RS. The quartet ends with an infectious scampering coda, leaving the listener with no reservations about any of the superbly crafted selections programmed here.
As on their previous Stanford release for Naxos (see above), the members of the Gould Piano Trio along with violist David Adams in the quartet, give a good accounting of themselves. Enthusiastic, technically perfect performances are the rule, making these late romantic scores all the more appealing.
Like the Mathias disc we told you about in June (see the newsletter 22 June 2011, these recordings were made at Champs Hill, West Sussex, which is one of Britain's finest small chamber music venues. The instruments are projected across a relatively wide soundstage in an acoustically obliging space that makes the Brahmsian sonorities found in Sir Charles' music all the richer.
On the other hand, a silvery rather than silken string tone and percussively well-rounded piano assure well-focused, demonstration quality sound. Just for the record, some pointy-eared audiophiles may detect a couple of isolated thumps probably due to a timpanic performing-stage.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y110812)
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