CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
22 NOVEMBER 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.
Freitas Branco (Branco): Vn Sons 1 & 2, Prel (vn & pno); Damas/Tomasik [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Having given us all four of his symphonies (see the newsletter of 26 January 2011), Naxos now turns their attention to some chamber music by Portuguese composer Luis de Freitas Branco (1890-1955, sometimes listed as just Branco). Francophile romantics won't want to be without the two sonatas and prelude for violin and piano included here. These are the only recordings of them available as of this writing.
At age sixteen Branco went to Lisbon for studies with Belgian organist-composer Désiré Pâque (1867-1939), whose works cry out for rediscovery -- Naxos please take note! He introduced Luis to César Franck's (1822-1890) music, which must have made a great impression on him if his four-movement first violin sonata of 1907 is any indication.
More specifically, the initial sonata form andantino begins with an airy lilting two-part theme (AL) that's first cousin to the one opening "Père Franck's" only effort in this genre (see the newsletter of 21 September 2011. The following development and recapitulation are of such sophistication it's hard to believe they were written by a seventeen-year-old.
The delightful, rhythmically jittery allegretto is more indicative of the composer's Iberian roots than any Gallic influences, but its themes bear a resemblance to AL. The highly chromatic adagio with its rhapsodic extended melody is all Branco, and hints at his later style (see the newsletter of 8 September 2008).
The final allegro begins with a bold, wide-ranging idea (BW) that undergoes an animated development full of bravura passages for both artists. The music then transitions into a subdued episode [track-4, beginning at 04:36] recalling AL in Franckian cyclic fashion. References to BW eventually follow, culminating in a stirring climax that puts the cork in a French bottle of Portuguese wine.
The second violin sonata of thirty years later (1938) is also in four movements, but the similarity ends there! A much more progressive piece representative of the composer's later creative period, the thematic material in the opening rapturous allegretto is of sweeping, late romantic temperament. It undergoes a highly chromatic liquefactive development where there are only hints of Franck.
The following vivace is notable for its infectious twitchy outer sections that surround a central sobbing melody. While the andantino is a da capo aria for the violin set to a harmonically dramatic piano accompaniment.
In modified sonata form, the concluding allegro opens with an intriguing bipolar theme (FB) that soars skywards only to fall back to earth. A brief extraordinary cadenza-like episode for the piano [track-8, beginning at 01:37] begins the combined development and recapitulation that follows. It then announces a final coda [track-8, beginning at 05:31] based on FB, ending a sonata that must rank among the best from this period.
An encore in the form of a prelude for violin and piano from 1910 concludes the program. French impressionism holds sway here, which seems to bear out the composer reputedly having once said that Debussy's (1862-1918) Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) had been the most important event in his artistic development. This exotic chamber miniature may bring to mind Branco's exquisite tone poem Paraísos Artificiais (Artificial Paradises) written that same year (see the newsletter of 18 February 2009).
Our soloists are Portuguese violinist Carlos Damas and Polish pianist Anna Tomasik. Mr. Damas playing is both sensitive and enthusiastic, however sometimes a tad squirrely. But not to worry as Ms. Tomasik holds everything together with her technically accomplished, confident accompaniment.
Done on two separate occasions at the same studio in Lisbon, the recordings sound consistent. They project a generous soundstage in a reverberant acoustic, which for clarity purposes probably necessitated the close miking evidenced here. As a consequence the violin sounds a bit wiry in louder passages, but surprisingly enough the piano is beautifully captured.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P111122)
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Kuusisto, I.: Sym 1, Conc improvvisando, Kun Talo...; P.Kuusisto/Hynninen/J.Kuusisto/Lahti SO [BIS]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The title of the old American TV sitcom "All in the Family" seems to fit this new release from BIS. It features music of Finnish composer Ilkka Kuusisto (b. 1933) conducted by his son Jaakko (b. 1974, see the newsletter of 6 January 2011), and includes a violin concerto with younger son Pekka (b. 1976) as soloist.
Ilkka began his musical career as a jazz pianist, eventually going on to study composition with Aarre Merikanto (1893-1958). Consequently you'll find his music embraces a number of stylistic influences, resulting in an eclecticism distinguishing him from other contemporary Finnish composers. His output is equally varied, including operatic, sacred, symphonic and vocal works, with the three selections that make their CD debut here falling into the last two categories.
The program opens with Ilkka's first symphony written in 1998 on a commission from our performing group, the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and its then conductor Osmo Vänskä (see the newsletter of 7 May 2006). There's an informality which makes this more of a suite, but no matter what you call it, the music is thoroughly refreshing.
The first of its four movements, an andantino, was according to the composer inspired by summer. It's a gorgeous symphonic Scandinavian pastorale that would undoubtedly have met with Delius' (1862-1934, see the newsletter of 29 September 2009) approval. There are even occasional bird calls which make idée fixe appearances throughout the work. Brilliantly scored with numerous solo passages to show off the orchestra's many fine musicians, this movement exudes a captivating charm.
The composer tells us the following marcia borrows material from his ballet Robin Hood (1985, not currently available on disc), and is meant to take the listener to Sherwood Forest. It's an arboreal offering with some of the rusticities found in the andantino, including those birdies. Additionally there are scherzoesque percussion-laced passages that recall Sir Malcolm Arnold's (1921-2006) more kinetic moments (see the newsletter of 18 December 2008).
The next movement lives up to its rubato markings with an airy extended melody that brings to mind treetops gently swaying in the wind. More feathered friends add a cheerful note to this otherwise languorous music, which is entirely different from the concluding allegro.
Somewhat along sonata form lines, this begins with a frenetic theme having more of those Arnold-like percussive effects (see the newsletter of 21 December 2009). It's followed by further bird calls and a contrasting lyrically subdued melody [track-4, beginning at 01:16] reminiscent of the symphony's opening. The two ideas then undergo a combined development and recapitulation, but chaos once again breaks out in the concluding coda. This ends the work in a final burst of triumphant energy, where it would be easy to imagine Bambi and friends outrunning that raging forest fire.
The three-movement violin concerto (2006) departs from the norm in a couple of ways. First, besides the cadenzas there are places where the soloist is to improvise, and accordingly it's called Concertino improvvisando. This adds an infectious spontaneity to the work which testifies to the improvisatory skills of the young Kuusisto. And second, each of the movements is based on music representative of a different continent.
The opening andante takes its cue from Europe, and the Scandinavian folk tradition in particular. It's a delicate morsel, that's a winsome juxtaposition of melodic and youthfully audacious passages. The former may bring to mind those hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle) tunes so popular with Norwegian composers (see the newsletter 8 June 2011), while the latter inject a bit of humor, ending the movement in a virtuosic tizzy.
We journey to the Americas for the final two movements. The penultimate “Slow and Sweet” revisits the swing era (1935-1946) when big bands were all the rage in the United States. There are echoes here of Eddie South (1904-1962), Stéphane Grappelli (1908-1997), and of course Django Reinhardt (1910-1953). At one point Kuusisto fils whistles a brief tune while plucking his violin [track-6, 04:35-05:07], which may strike some as a bit hokey, but it is different!
Then it's south of the border for the concluding “Fast,” which draws on South American rhythms. The jivey opening has some violin special effects [track-7, beginning at 00:31] that could accompany Night of the Living Dead (1968). Then the pace slackens as the mood turns tangoesque à la Piazzolla (1921-1992). Following a brief pause there's an energetic episode with some jazzy violin extemporizing, after which the concerto ends in several humorous avian chirps and a couple of final perfunctory chords.
The disc is filled out with Kun talo alkaa soida (When the House Begins to Resound, 1992), which is an eighteen-minute cantata for baritone and orchestra commemorating the 1993 inauguration of Helsinki's new opera house. A sort of modern day Consecration of the House, it's written in a continuous span with a text (included in the album notes with an English translation) by Lassi Nummi (b. 1928) drawn from the Bible, Kalevala, and Schopenhauer's (1788-1860) philosophizations regarding music.
The eclecticism of Kuusisto père comes in handy, allowing him to compose in a variety of styles representing the many genres of music soon to be heard in the new venue. The piece opens dramatically as the soloist sings about the house resounding. Other highlights include a powerfully scored march-based segment [track-8, beginning at 03:57] anticipating the feast of performances to come, and a fetching folkish episode with accordion accompaniment [track-8, beginning at 08:00] celebrating the power of music.
Its cosmic significance is then acclaimed in an ecstatic, dynamically hair-raising sequence [track-8, beginning at 11:54], and then the cantata ends in quiet mystery with final references to music's dreamlike elusiveness. Quite frankly Kuusisto's brilliant scoring endues Nummi's turgid verses with an emotionality they'd otherwise lack.
Baritone Jorma Hynninen's commanding voice and dramatic delivery make the cantata all the more moving. While violinist Pekka Kuusisto delivers a superb performance of the concerto, which will remain unique owing to its improvisatory passages. Both soloists receive ideal support from the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (LaSO) and conductor Jaakko Kuusisto, who also give a stirring account of the symphony.
Done in the Sibelius Hall, Lahti, Finland, which is home to the LaSO, one couldn't ask for a better venue. And the BIS engineers have outdone themselves capitalizing on every cubic foot of this glorious "Cecilian" space. The recordings project a generous well-focused soundstage in a warm reverberant acoustic with both soloists ideally placed and balanced against the tutti. The sound is characterized by bright but pleasing highs, rock solid base, and spectacular dynamics generated by Kuusisto's opulent orchestration.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y111121)
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Röntgen: Pno Concs 2 & 4; Kirschnereit/Porcelijn/HanNDR RP [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Last summer we told you about some violin concertante works by Julius Röntgen (1855-1932, (see the newsletter of 22 June 2011), and here are two of his seven piano concertos in CPO's continuing survey of his oeuvre. Born in Leipzig he was German-trained, but moved to the Netherlands in 1877, where he spent the rest of his life.
A truly cosmopolitan composer, he had a strong interest in the music of Franck (1822-1890), Brahms (1833-1897), Borodin (1833-1887), Grieg (1843-1907), Debussy (1862-1918) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949). He was also familiar with the work of such up-and-coming composers as Stravinsky (1882-1971) as well as Hindemith (1895-1963), and intrigued by the dodecaphony of the Second Viennese School. But aside from a couple of late experiments with atonality, he found the latter "unmusical" and shunned it.
An accomplished pianist as well as a great friend and admirer of Brahms, Röntgen championed his two piano concertos (1854-58 and 1878-81). So it's not surprising Julius' three-movement second of 1879 shows the older composer's influence.
The opening allegro is notable for some memorable melodies and an admirable development. There are also hints of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), including a passage [track-1, beginning at 02:58] that's almost right out of his single effort in the genre (1841-45). However, the imaginatively crafted cadenza and fluid recap are all Röntgen.
The next larghetto is a lovely lyrical outpouring with strong Brahmsian leanings, but a level of emotionality more indicative of Röntgen. The final allegro with its catchy themes is all Julius. The first of these has the rhythmic vitality of a Chopin (1810-1849) mazurka (Op.33, No. 2, 1837-38). Whereas the second is more melodic, of folkish persuasion [track-3, beginning at 01:28], and plays a game of leapfrog with the former in rondo fashion. The concerto ends happily with bravura flourishes for the soloist, some rousing timpani reinforcement, and a last doff of the hat to that would-be mazurka. This innovative movement adds real appeal to a work some might otherwise dismiss as derivative.
The disc closes with the fourth concerto of 1906, which is also in three movements marked the same as above, After a brief orchestral buildup, the piano enters with a forceful heroic theme (FH) that's enthusiastically picked up by the orchestra. Some piano pyrotechnics ensue, and then one of those lovely, possibly Dutch folk-related melodies (LD) [track-4, beginning at 01:59] which seem to be a Röntgen specialty (see the newsletter of 28 October 2008).
A masterful development is next with virtuosic outbursts counterbalanced by subdued passages of great sensitivity. Recurring references to FH and LD, including a couple in the "big Tune" tradition, lead to a flamboyant recap, and stormy final coda with flashes of FH.
In the overcast larghetto the piano intones an extended lament between somber brass passages and heartrending moments for the winds. But the skies clear in the animated finale where a couple of invigorating themes are introduced, giving the soloist a chance to display his digital dexterity. Another winsome expansive melody (WE) [track-6, beginning at 01:38] then appears, after which there's a superb development. This gives way to an exciting recapitulation, culminating in an electric coda introduced by WE [track-6; beginning at 06:17] that ends the concerto in festive fashion.
German pianist Matthias Kirschnereit delivers magnificent performances of both concertos. He tempers his brilliant technique with an attention to phrasing and dynamics that breathes new life into these long forgotten scores. What's more he receives outstanding support from Röntgen specialist, conductor David Porcelijn, who's once again paired with the NDR Radio Philharmonic (North German Radio Broadcasting Orchestra, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009).
A coproduction of CPO and North German Radio (NDR), the recordings were made at NDR's large studio in Hannover, and project a balanced, slightly veiled orchestral soundstage in a warm acoustic. Also the piano seems a bit recessed, and would have been more convincing were it more forward and better highlighted. The orchestral timbre is agreeably musical, and the piano tone generally pleasing except for some diffuseness.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P111120)
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Schwertsik: Nachtmusiken, Herr K entdeckt Amerika, Baumgesänge; Gruber/BBC P [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Please welcome Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik (b. 1935) to these pages! Originally a student of Joseph Marx (1882-1964, see the newsletter of 15 April 2009) at the Vienna University of Music between 1955 and 1962, he went on to study with such avant-gardists as John Cage (1912-1992), Luigi Nono (1924-1990), Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007), and Maricio Kagel (1931-2008).
But he soon rejected the world of those iconoclasts in favor of a slightly tongue-in-cheek tonal eclecticism designed to make his music understandable to the average listener. The three orchestral works on this release, the first two being world premiere recordings, are good examples of this.
The concert begins with Nachtmusiken (Night Music Thoughts, 2010), which is a wistful five-part symphonic suite the composer tells us is associated with childhood memories of nights in war-ravaged Vienna. The opening "Janácek ist mir im Traum erschienen" ("Janácek Appears to Me in a Dream"), is a haunting nocturne in memory of the great Czech composer (1854-1928). Rather than quoting any of his music, Schwertsik colors it with those speech rhythms so predominant in Janácek's works.
The next two sections, "Wienerlied" ("Vienna Song") and "...for David Drew" (1930-2009), are quite melancholy. The former takes the form of a diaphanous slow waltz with subtle atmospheric accordion embellishments. While the latter, dedicated to a recently deceased close friend and former promoter of Schwertsik's music, is a moving expression of grief. Oddly enough this is the accordion's second appearance in this newsletter (see the Kuusisto recommendation above).
The mood shifts with the two concluding night thoughts. The scherzo-like "Geschwindmarsch" ("Quick March") smacks of goose-stepping Nazis marching through Shostakovich's (1906-1975) war symphonies (Nos. 4-9, 1935-1945). On the other hand, "Flucht" ("Flight") is a fugal epilogue that gathers momentum and ends a bit like the first movement of Mahler's (1860-1911) Titan Symphony (No. 1, 1888, revised 1893, 1896-98).
The next selection, Herr K entdeckt Amerika (Mr. K Discovers America, 2008), was inspired by Franz Kafka's (1883-1924) unfinished novel Amerika (1913). A four movement suite, which Schwertsik describes as a "sonatina for orchestra," it depicts the ocean voyage of a seventeen-year-old European emigrant named Karl to the United States, and his bizarre wanderings there.
In the introductory "Überfahrt" ("Crossing"), repeated rhythmic riffs conjure up images of reciprocating pistons, whirling propeller shafts and rolling seas as the ship makes its way to New York City. While the following "Im Hotel" ("In the Hotel") is a skittish offering implying an untoward incident that gets Karl fired from his job there. It again recalls the opening movement of Mahler's first (see above).
With its meandering melodies and dust devil rising woodwind phrases, the next part, "Unterwegs" ("Underway"), would seem to characterize Karl's train trip through the empty expanses of the Midwest. He's on his way to join "Das Naturtheater von Oklahoma" ("The Nature Theatre of Oklahoma"), which is a circus and the subject for the final part of this suite.
The hustle and bustle of circus life is implied in its rhythmically insistent, brass-accented opening and closing sections. As it turns out, this suite was just a teaser for the full length ballet Kafka Amerika (2008-09, not currently available on disc), which the composer would soon write.
Another Schwertsik ballet, Frida Kahlo (1991, not currently available on disc) based on the life of that renowned Mexican painter (1907-1954), provided most of the material for the closing selection, Baumgesäng (Tree Songs, 1992). This is an orchestral suite in six movements, all of which are drawn from Frida..., excepting the third which is an orchestration of an unidentified piece for string quartet.
The composer tells us the work's six sections are meant to express his love of trees. However, this is puzzling considering all of the music was originally inspired by what would appear to be totally unrelated subject matter. So the following arboreal associations are offered in an attempt to give him the benefit of the doubt.
The opening movement [track-10] with its dramatic percussion-enhanced ff chords and austere theme could reflect the imposing majesty of trees. While avian twittering in the next [track-11] reminds us they are home to a variety of tuneful feathered friends. Incidentally, it would seem this newsletter is for the birds, considering their earlier presence in the Kuusisto recommendation above.
The threatening third section [track-12] with its insistent percussive chopping motifs may imply man's propensity to cut down vast tracts of forest. But a sense of rebirth seems to dominate the following section [track-14], where radiant strings and vernal winds suggest spring may not be far away.
At times reminiscent of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) The Rite of Spring (1913, revised 1947), driving circular riffs in the fifth movement [should be track-14, and not 15 as marked in the album notes] conjure up images of massive wheeled machines. With a stretch of the imagination maybe they're tractors hauling away the trees felled above?
Be that as it may, those birdies return for the rousing finale [track-15]. Their motoric song builds with an assist from percussion and brass into a triumphant dance. This includes a Mexican sounding episode [track-15, beginning at 01:44], which must have slipped in from Frida... (see above), or maybe these trees were in Mexico! The score then becomes increasingly agitated as the suite ends in a frenetic minimalist tarantella with paroxysmal final chords. This is thrilling, colorful music no matter what program lies behind it!
With Schwertsik's close friend and champion, fellow Austrian composer HK Gruber (Heinz Karl Gruber, b. 1943) conducting the BBC Philharmonic, one couldn't ask for more committed, authoritative performances. All the capriciousness, humor and unpredictability that characterize these picturesque scores are faithfully captured. By the way, if you like this music you might also want to investigate Schwertsik's homage to Schubert (1797-1828), Epilog zu Rosamunde (Epilogue to Rosamunde, 1978).
With the BBC soon moving from New Broadcasting House (NBH), Manchester to a new location in England, this must be among Chandos' last recordings made in NBH's Studio 7. A tried-and-true venue that was home to many past outstanding Chandos productions, the same can be said for this release. The recordings are superb, projecting a wide as well as deep soundstage in a reverberant but articulate acoustic that has always had great appeal for those liking wetter sonics.
The orchestral timbre is natural with brilliant highs and clean lows, while all of the instrumental detail in Schwertsik's delicate scoring stays in perfect focus. Had this been a Chandos hybrid disc the SACD tracks would have undoubtedly produced a silkier violin sound, but what we have here is definitely audiophile grade.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y111119)
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Stanford, C.: Vc & Orch Wks Cpte (incl Vc Conc); Rosefield/Manze/BBCScot SO [Hyperion]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Back in 1993 Hyperion began their popular "Romantic Piano Concerto" series (see the newsletter of 26 October 2011), which they've since followed with similar surveys devoted to the violin (beginning in 1999), as well as the cello (beginning in 2005), this being the third and most recent installment in the latter (see the newsletter of 28 April 2007). It has all of Irish-born, British composer Sir Charles Villiers Stanford's (1852-1924) works for cello and orchestra. These include the only currently available recordings of the Rondo in F as well as the Ballata and Ballabile in the versions presented here.
The program begins with Stanford's only cello concerto (1880), which devotees of Sir Arthur Sullivan's (1842-1900) of 1866, and the two by Victor Herbert (1859-1924) from 1884 and 1894, may find they like even better. In three movements, the opening modified sonata form allegro begins with a pair of themes that are sequentially yearning [track-1, beginning at 00:14] and bubbly [track-1, beginning at 01:58].
They're not far removed from the world of Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009), which would seem to reflect Stanford's studies in Germany during the middle 1870s. Both ideas make frequent returns throughout the exposition and development, but then the composer surprises us in the latter by introducing an entirely new romantically winsome third subject [track-1, beginning at 05:58]. All three are recalled in the recapitulation, which ends in a dramatic cadenza and final coda.
The operatic adagio takes the form of an aria-recitative-aria for the cello based on an endearing heartfelt melody (EH) [track-2, beginning at 00:19]. The composer brings out the cello's resonant voice-like qualities in this lovely movement, which provides a breather before the antsy allegretto finale.
This is a sonata-rondo with a couple of vivacious ideas that play a game of tag, which is interrupted by a surprise cyclic reappearance of EH [track-3, beginning at 03:26]. After some additional thematic shenanigans, all three subjects take final bows in a lively recapitulation that ends the concerto ebulliently.
Written at seventeen, the Rondo in F of 1869 is an estimable accomplishment even if it does owe a great debt to Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826). After a brief rhapsodic opening for soloist and orchestra, the cello introduces several attractive melodies. These are tossed about with youthful abandon in the work's opening and closing sections, which surround a recitative-like meditative episode.
Coming almost forty years after the concerto, Ballata and Ballabile (1918) is a two-part concertante piece. Ballata, an Italian song form popular during the fourteenth century, is a lovely cantilena of somber pastoral temperament fully exploiting the cello's vox humana qualities. On the other hand Ballabile, a balletic term referring to the dances performed by a whole corps de ballet, is a joyous waltz-like offering that makes considerably more demands on the soloist.
Between 1901 and 1923 Stanford wrote six Irish Rhapsodies for orchestra, the third and sixth of which feature prominent solo parts for cello and violin respectively. This program of little known cello treasures concludes with No. 3 of 1913. In two linked sections that borrow heavily from Irish folk sources, the first is an extended melancholy cantabile offering. There are dramatic developmental outbursts, the last transitioning into the final part, which is a jolly jig [track-7, beginning at 11:55]. It gives the soloist as well as the orchestra a chance to strut their stuff, providing the rhapsody with an exhilarating Riverdance-like conclusion.
Hearing this disc one is not surprised to learn our soloist, Gemma Rosefield, has won several international prizes. She plays with great feeling bringing out all the nuances of these elegantly crafted scores. Her efforts are admirably supported by Andrew Manze, who hangs up his violin to conduct the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Together they make a strong case for these unjustly neglected pieces.
Done in City Halls Concert Hall, Glasgow, the recordings are good, and project a wide as well as deep soundstage in an ideally reverberant acoustic. The latter makes this romantic music sound all the more expansive without blurring it.
The orchestral timbre is bright but natural, and the soloist is perfectly positioned. However, Ms. Rosefield could have been a bit more highlighted to better show off her aureate cello tone. Incidentally, those with sound systems that go down to rock bottom may notice some low-end thumps probably occasioned by Maestro Manze being on one of those "timpanic" podiums.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P111118)
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Tishchenko (Tischenko): Stg Qts Cpte (6); Various Qts (3) [N Flowers]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (3 CDs)
Although Russian composer Boris Tishchenko (1939-2010, also spelled Tischenko) was a student of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), his six string quartets show very little of his mentor's influence. While they are tonal and adhere to well established musical principles, as far as Russian efforts in this genre go, they are the next rung up the ladder of progressivity from those by Borodin (1833-1887), Taneyev (1856-1915, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011), Glazunov (1865-1936, see the newsletter of 21 September 2011), Myaskovsky (1881-1950), Shostakovich and Weinberg (1919-1996, see the newsletter of 26 October 2011).
Like Weinberg's first quartet, Tishchenko's was a student work (1957) from his days at the Leningrad Conservatory (now the St. Petersburg Conservatory). And just as Weinberg had done, he later revised it (1975), giving us the version here [CD-1; tracks-1 through 3]. In three movements, it's a subtle restrained piece that belies its youthful origin.
The opening andante is chromatically searching as opposed to the fleeting central allegro, which is a fidgety dance with occasional bow-knock accents. The pensive final largo builds to a harmonically dense, nails-across-the-blackboard crescendo followed by a death rattle glissando. The music then expires, fading into oblivion.
The four-movement second quartet of 1959 [CD-1; tracks-4 through 7] has an initial sonata form allegro with two contrasting themes that are successively contentious and soulful. They’re the seeds for an inventive development having some imaginative string effects, and a trick recapitulation where they return in reverse order.
The following largo is a unique Tishchenko creation whose dark opening measures are dominated by layered intervals of a fifth. They introduce a mournful chorale tune (MC) [CD-1; track-5, beginning at 01:27], which undergoes an increasingly agitated complex contrapuntal development. The pace then slackens, and the movement ends with references to the opening measures plus muted reminders of MC.
There's something entomological about the pesky presto with its culicid glissandi, but the concluding lento couldn't be more different! It's a theme and variations whose main subject is based on MC. The transformations become increasingly accelerated, finally slowing into a pensive recollection of MC that ends the quartet reverentially.
Dedicated to Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006), who was one of his teachers, the third quartet dating from 1970 [Disc-2; tracks-1 through 4] is the most progressive of the lot! In four movements the first three follow on each other’s heels, beginning with a sostenuto, which opens with an extended languid theme (EL). This slowly comes to life, eventually becoming rhythmically deranged and dissonant to the point of sounding aleatoric.
It transitions via an intervalic hop right into the next presto movement. At first spiky with whimsical outbursts from all four instruments, the music turns into a crazed free-for-all. Except for a couple of ghostly muted passages, a state of chaos prevails only to be quelled by a macho motif on the cello.
This introduces the third robusto movement, which at first seems to be a fugue promising some semblance of order after the foregoing confusion. But no such luck, as the violins and viola go their separate ways! They even ridicule a final plea for unity from the cello, ending the movement callously.
After a brief pause, the concluding tranquillo brings a complete change of mood. Serene and nocturnal-sounding it’s based on a spun out bittersweet melody. Towards the end there are some forte passages suggestive of previous strife-torn moments, but the quartet concludes in a starlit state of heavenly repose.
At forty minutes his fourth quartet of 1980 [CD-3; tracks-1 through 4] is the magnum opus of the six. In four contiguous movements, the initial sixteen minute sonata form moderato displays exceptional workmanship. The opening thematic material is a series of brief rhythmic rather than melodic motifs (BRs). These are worked into an innovative modular development that gives way to an equally inventive recapitulation, where they make a pianissimo return. The movement then ends on a single note that transitions right into the next scherzo-like one.
Here muted passages conjure up images of disembodied pestiferous spirits drifting about. But not for long as the mutes come off for the stirring allegro that follows immediately. It begins with a cheeky folkish ditty that becomes the subject for a brilliant set of irreverent variations which will have you smiling.
The last variant takes on the added role of a cello cadenza [CD-3; track-3, beginning at 08:47], ending in a descending four-note ostinato figure (DFO). This transitions directly into the final moderato, which as it turns out is an ingenious passacaglia built on DFO. The quartet then ends full circle with hints of those first BRs. All these twists and turns, will have you frequently returning to this exceptional chamber work.
Of the six quartets the fifth from 1984 [CD-2; tracks-5 through 7] seems stylistically the closest to Shostakovich. In three fleet movements, it has a classical transparency that's most appealing. The initial allegro is in sonata form with an opening statement featuring a bouncy folk-sounding number (BF), followed by a slower lyrical idea (SL) [CD-2; track-5, beginning at 00:47].
The rigorous development incorporating contrapuntal elements gradually gains in momentum and harmonic density. There are chugging passages [CD-2; track-5, beginning at 05:08], which are a combination of those hunters in Rossini's (1792-1868) William Tell Overture (1829), and Shostakovich's galloping scherzos. They give way to a glorious coda [CD-2; track-5, beginning at 06:53] based on SL, and a spirited recapitulation that ends the movement with amusing tipsy-sounding hints of BF.
The operatic allegretto [CD-2; track-5] begins with a calando version of BF sung by the first violin with occasional rhythmic chirps of approval from the other instruments. Each of the latter then deliver their own version of this cantalena, after which an intense argument involving all breaks out. But peace is finally restored, and after a glissando sigh the movement ends like it began.
The quartet concludes with another sonata form allegro based on an opening heartbeat motif (HB) played by the first violin over another contrasting sinuous melody (CS) introduced on the cello [CD-2; track-7, beginning at 00:17]. The two are then synthesized into a third melancholy idea (TM) [CD-2; track-7, beginning at 02:17], and a dramatic development follows.
This is somewhat atypical for having a lovely CS-based central dance episode [CD-2; track-7, beginning at 05:20], and ends with aggressive, harmonically dense passages that transition into the brief recapitulation. Here TM, HB and CS are reprised, and then the quartet experiences heart failure with ebbing terminal references to HB.
Tishchenko's sixth and last quartet of just three years ago (2008) [CD-1; tracks-8 and 9] has a directness and sincerity frequently found in composers' late works. In two brief sonata form movements, the first is an allegro which opens with a scurrying theme that recalls the "DSCH" (D-Eb-C-B) musical monogram Dmitri Shostakovich so often used (see the newsletter of 30 March 2006). A second related, more stable idea follows, after which the two are masterfully developed and recapitulated with a final DSCH-tinged flourish.
The concluding andante begins with a depressive tenebrous motif (DT), followed by a lyrical optimistic melody (LO) [CD-1; track-9, beginning at 01:13]. In the moving development that's next, DT undergoes a series of increasingly stark variations with LO returning between them in rondo fashion. The quartet ends peacefully with a subdued reference to LO that provides a final tenuous glimmer of hope. Tishchenko certainly hadn't lost any of his creative powers when he wrote this.
Three separate Russian ensembles are represented here, all of which deliver electric performances of these wiry no-nonsense scores. More specifically, the highly regarded Taneyev Quartet is responsible for the first and third quartets [CD-1], while the Tver Philharmonic Quartet plays the fourth [CD-3]. The remaining three (second, fifth and sixth) are performed by violinsts Ilya Ioff and Elena Raskova with violist Lidia Kovalenko and cellist Alexey Massarsky [CD-2].
We're told all of the recordings were done by the St. Petersburg Recording Studio with the first and third quartets made in 1976 (ADD), fourth in 1982 (DDD), and remaining ones (second, fifth and sixth) in 2010 (DDD). Amazingly even though they span twenty-four years, the sound is remarkably consistent. All project a wide soundstage in a reverberant acoustic, both of which seem tailor-made for these often prickly creations. The string tone is natural with the violins a tad brighter in the ADD first and third quartets. Audiophiles with a proclivity for modern chamber music will not be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y111117)
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