CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
8 FEBRUARY 2012
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.
Braga Santos (Santos): Sym Ov 3, Elegy..., Alfama..., Vars..., 3 Sym...; Cassuto/RScotNa O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Portuguese composer Joly Braga Santos (1924-1988, sometimes listed as just Santos) makes his CROCKS debut with this new Naxos release that includes five of his orchestral works. Written between 1954 and 1976, they're not programmed in chronological order, but sequentially seem generally more progressive. Two are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The concert begins with his Symphonic Overture No. 3 from 1954. The reserved opening introduces a winsome main theme (WM), which is apparently of the composer's own design but stylistically related to folk music from the Alentejo region of Portugal. The music then suddenly becomes more energetic and some additional related ideas appear. A sonata form development and recapitulation follow with the overture ending in a glorious high spirited coda based on WM.
The mood becomes more sullen with Elegy in Memory of Vianna da Motta, written in 1948 for the great Portuguese pianist-composer (1868-1948), who had just died. In A-B-A form there's a deathly Nordic chill about the beginning with its crescendo of grief, and the sorrowful ending. They surround a driving drum-punctuated central episode invoking images of a passing funeral cortege. The overall effect is exceptionally heart-rending.
In 1956 it seems the composer found himself short of cash, and dashed off the ballet Alfama for a few extra escudos. But after the first performance he felt haste made waste, and shelved it! Some sixty years later our conductor here, Álvaro Cassuto, discovered the manuscript languishing in Portugal's National Library, and decided there were enough inspired moments to extract a suite.
Named after the oldest district in Lisbon known for its Moorish history, the resultant colorfully scored, twenty-five minute Alfama Ballet Suite (WPR) was well worth the effort! It consists of a mystical introduction that could almost be out of a Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995) biblical score (see the newsletter of 25 July 2007), followed by eight dance movements.
Unfortunately no scenario is included with Cassuto's otherwise informative album notes, so the dance titles are all we have to go on. They include a dramatic sailor's dance with Iberian folk overtones, a pas de trois that may bring the "Troika" in Prokofiev's (1891-1953) Lieutenant Kijé (1934) to mind, plus a couple of modally spiced, rhythmically spirited numbers for fishwives. The next three dances for girls and boys are rustically colorful, and followed by a final somewhat Eastern-sounding number presumably reflecting the ballet's Arabic associations.
Dating from 1976, the Variations for Orchestra (WPR) is a good example of Braga Santos' later style. It differs from your conventional theme and variations in two respects. First, the main idea is a nebulous rising-falling twenty-four-note motif (RT) instead of the usual clear-cut thematic subject. And second, rather than being based on the familiar melodic-rhythmic manipulations, the variations are of the klangfarbe (tone color) type, where RT appears in a series of differing orchestral timbres. An intricately complex score, the overall effect is mesmerizing, and bears repeated listening for full appreciation.
The concert ends with Three Symphonic Sketches (1962), which are conjoined, and at times sound even more progressive than the preceding work despite their earlier conception date. There's a martial air about the initial allegro with its common time, percussion-laced pizzicato bass line and ff outbursts reminiscent of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) war symphonies (1935-1945). Do you suppose the escalating Vietnam War (1955-1975) could have been on the composer's mind?
A sense of doom and gloom pervade the following lento, made all the more intimidating by two menacing crescendos. It transitions directly into the final allegro, which is a diabolical scherzoesque developmental extension of the first sketch. Stylistically speaking, Braga Santos had come a long way from the three opening selections.
Considered Portugal's foremost conductor, we've already praised Álvaro Cassuto's recordings for Naxos of music by his compatriot Luís de Freitas Branco (1890-1955, see the newsletter of 26 January 2011). And we're happy to do the same here for some by one of Branco's students.
This time around Cassuto is at the helm of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), and gets memorable performances from his crew. His attention to instrumental detail, phrasing, and dynamics, particularly in the complex last two scores, shows this music off to great advantage. And if you're not already familiar with them, make sure to investigate his previous Braga Santos releases on Naxos' sister label Marco Polo (see 8223879, 8225087, 8225216, 8225186, 8225233 and 8225271).
Made at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, the recordings are extremely detailed and well focused across a wide, deep soundstage in an attractively reverberant acoustic. But from the audiophile standpoint, these brilliantly orchestrated pieces with their extended frequency and dynamic ranges raise the old dilemma of reproductive accuracy versus musicality. That is to say those with totally transparent systems will find the orchestral timbre a tad grainy at the top end, while those with more forgiving ones will be in seventh heaven.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120208)
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Converse, F.: Song of the Sea, Festival of Pan, American Sketches; Lockhart/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Arthur Foote (1853-1937) and Frederick Converse (1871-1940) were students of John Knowles Paine (1839-1906) at Harvard, and would go on to become two of America's first and foremost romantic composers. Frederick would also pursue an academic career, and could count Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) and Florence Price (1888-1953, see the Price recommendation below) among his students.
We've already sung Foote's praises in these pages (see the newsletter of 28 February 2010), and now it's Converse's turn with this new noteworthy release from Dutton featuring world premiere recordings of three orchestral works by him. You may detect European influences undoubtedly acquired during his two years of study in Munich with Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) following his graduation from Harvard (1893).
The leadoff selection, Song of the Sea (1923), is a tone poem the composer tells us was inspired by "On the Beach at Night" from the "Sea Drift" section of Walt Whitman's (1819-1892) poetic Leaves of Grass collection (1891-92, see the album notes for the text). Rather than being a sea picture, it's meant to capture the spiritual and emotional import of the lines.
Accordingly its dark brooding Germanic opening, which would seem to characterize the evanescence of materiality, gradually swells into an ecstatic contemplation of the divine. There's a flow and breadth about the closing measures reminiscent of such Delius (1862-1934) Americana as the Florida Suite (1887-89), Hiawatha (1888, see the newsletter of 29 September 2009) and Appalachia (1896).
Speaking of Delius (see the newsletter of 27 July 2011), Sea Drift also triggered identically named works by him in 1903-04, and John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951; also a Harvard graduate) in 1933-34 (see the newsletter of 18 April 2006), as well as the Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) Sea Symphony (No. 1; 1903-09, revised 1923).
More poetry, this time two scenes from John Keats' (1795-1821) Endymion (1818), were the inspiration for successive symphonic poems, or "Romances" as Converse called them. Entitled Festival of Pan (1899) and Endymion's Narrative (1901), it's the former that's included here.
A pastoral offering with a subdued beginning and ending, Endymion's amorous melancholy is represented by a doleful solo for the English horn [track-2, beginning at 01:26]. This is soon transformed into a gorgeous transcendent melody of love-fulfilled [track-2, beginning at 06:46] that will pervade the piece. The more morose parts are offset by a couple of lively shepherds' dances, and a delightful fugato [track-2, beginning at 11:20]. This "Romance" shows Converse could hold his own with Europe's finest romantic composers.
The disc closes with American Sketches dating from 1929. This is a four-part suite for orchestra in which the composer borrows themes from Carl Sandburg's (1878-1967) American Songbag collection of folk ditties (1927).
The opening "Manhattan" is a fascinating musical sketch depicting different aspects of "The Big Apple." Dissonant passages may well characterize the city's crowded sidewalks and congested traffic, while soaring ones may refer to its towering concrete canyons. A rather dour theme [track-4, beginning at 03:22] could represent the sense of isolation a visiting out-of-towner can feel surrounded by materialistic, self-centered, competitive New Yorkers.
Curiously enough there are also sections recalling Ravel's (1875-1937) La Valse (1920). This may well be explained by Converse having probably just heard Ravel conduct it with the Boston Symphony Orchestra back in 1928.
The next part, "The Father of Waters," is a meandering aqueous adagio with a recurring theme based on the blues song "Levee Moan" [track-4, beginning at from 01:30]. It brings to mind folkish sounding moments in Dvorák's (1841-1904) New World Symphony (No. 9, 1893) and Ferde Grofé's (1892-1972) Mississippi Suite (1925, see the newsletter of 20 November 2006), while pointing the way towards Virgil Thomson's (1896-1989) The River (1934, see the newsletter of 30 October 2007).
The following section incorporates and is named after the dance tune "The Chicken Reel" (1910) by US songwriter Joseph M. Daly (1891-?), which Converse said struck him as thoroughly American. You might want to compare this scherzo-like movement to Leroy Anderson's (1908-1975) droll 1946 miniature utilizing the same melody (see the newsletter of 15 February 2008).
The suite closes with "Bright Angel Trail" subtitled "A Legend of the Grand Canyon of Arizona," which immediately brings to mind Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite of two years later (1931, see the newsletter of 20 November 2006). But you'll find the Converse is the converse of Grofé's mulishly capricious "On the Trail."
The movement is in two arches, the first of which builds mysteriously to a dramatic climax with an assist from the organ. We're told this portrays feelings engendered by the canyon's breathtaking geological features bathed in ever-changing light, which make it one of earth's most humbling sights.
Then after a brief pause, the concluding arch [track-6, beginning at 04:49] conjures up memories of Indian tribes such as the Havasupai people, who were indigenous to the area. It ends the suite in a state of grandeur with additional organ reinforcement befitting one of the planet's most awesome features.
Following in the footsteps of Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979) and John Williams (b. 1932), Keith Lockhart (b. 1959) took over the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1995. He's since established himself as one of America's most popular conductors, and makes his Dutton debut here with the BBC Concert Orchestra. The committed vivacious performances he gets from his British musicians make a strong case for a Converse revival devoted to the large body of his music, including six symphonies, yet to see the light of day.
Made in April and September 2011, these studio recordings are agreeably consistent, projecting a wide but somewhat distant soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. The sonic focus and clarity are detailed giving rise to an orchestral timbre with shimmering highs and tight lows. A more closely miked robust sound would probably have put this disc in the demonstration category.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120207)
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Corp: And all the...; Hurd, M.: Shepherd's...; Soloists/Corp/NewLonChil C/Lon C/Bourn SO [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
If this were a concept album it might well be called "War and Peace," considering the subject material of the two contemporary British choral works making their recording debuts here. Ronald Corp's (b. 1951) cantata brings Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) War Requiem (1961) to mind, while Michael Hurd's (1928-2006) symphony is a peaceful invocation of the seasons in the English countryside (click here for the texts).
Scored for baritone, a chorus that includes children, and an orchestra without trombones, Corp's And all the Trumpets Sounded (1987-89) was intended as a companion piece for Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) war-related cantata Dona nobis pacem (1936). Corp alternates Latin verses from the "Dies Irae" Sequence section (DIS) of the Requiem Mass with poems inspired by the American Civil War (1861-65) and World War I (1914-18), thereby drawing a parallel between The Day of Judgement and war in general.
In ten connected sections, it begins with pounding drums, brass machine gun fire and anguished strings, after which the chorus intones the first two DIS verses beginning "Dies irae..." [track-1]. The music gradually fades away and trumpets introduce Edward Thomas' (1878-1917) "The Trumpet" (1916) sung by the baritone [track-2]. The first of four poems here by Britishers who met their fate in "The Great War" (see Brooke, Sorley and Owen below), it's followed by an agitated chorus set to the next six DIS lines starting "Tuba mirum..." [track-3].
More trumpet calls herald a moving arrangement for baritone and chorus of Rupert Brooke's (1887-1915) "The Dead" (1914) [track-4]. Then we get a flashback to the War Between the States in the form of a heartrending similar setting of Walt Whitman's (1819-1892) "Vigil Strange" (1862-65) [track-5]. Corp wrote this part first, and most would probably agree it's the cantata's emotional center of gravity.
The chorus then makes a plea for salvation with the DIS lines beginning "Rex tremendae..." [track-6], quickly followed by a capricious number for the soloist based on Charles Sorley's (1895-1915) somewhat cynical "Such, Such is Death" (date unknown) [track-7]. But serenity returns as the chorus sings the closing DIS verses that begin "Lacrimosa..." and "Pie Jesu..." respectively [tracks-8 and 9].
Britten immortalized some of Wilfred Owen's (1893-1918) battlefield poems in his War Requiem, and Corp ends the cantata with another of his darker ones that didn't appear there. Titled "Asleep" (1917-18) [track-10], it's sung by the baritone with those fateful drums that began this work reappearing soon after the words "Let it pass!" [track-10, beginning at 03:05]. Their tattoo is a harbinger of the pessimistic ending about to come.
This begins on the last word of Owen's poem, "Alas!" which the chorus picks up, repeating it over and over again as more drums enter. Then orchestra plus chorus launch into a brilliant "crescendo di glissandi" [track-10, beginning at 05:10], followed by a frenzied outcry with the DIS verse that launched the cantata. The work ends in a prolonged drum roll raked by more brass machine gun fire, implying war is never ending!
But peace is temporarily restored with Michael Hurd's choral symphony The Shepherd's Calendar of 1975, which is an English pastoral characterization of the seasons. The text is drawn from John Clare's (1793-1864) similarly named poetic collection about each of the months (1827), and one of his later love poems (date unknown).
Scored for baritone, chorus and orchestra, it's in four seasonal movements, beginning with Winter. This is a lento based on extracts from Clare's poem for January, "With'ring and Keen the Winter Comes." Frosty winds and strings introduce a wistful romantic chorus describing a picturesque wintry scene with rustics heading home for the warmth of their hearths.
As the movement draws to a close the baritone enters with a touching lament over the loss of innocent childhood beliefs. He's later joined by the chorus who end this season with the poignant line "Where are they now?"
Spring follows in the allegro drawn from Clare's May offering, "Come, Queen of Months!" A terrific vernal scherzo, it begins with the soloist invoking the season of rebirth, and a fetching chorus on the joys of childhood. The baritone soon returns injecting some somber thoughts about young love. But the mood lightens once more with a chorus anticipating fun-filled Summer.
The sultry days of summer would seem to be represented by the next largo, which is a setting for the soloist of a much later poem titled "O Love is So Deceiving!" With its affecting words and languishing melody it's an exquisite piece, and the symphony's emotional high point.
Reverting back to the earlier collection, the finale honors Fall with Clare's poem for September, "Harvest Awakes the Morning Still." There's an autumnal auburn glow about the melancholy orchestral prologue and opening chorus. However, the mood brightens briefly with memories of that spring scherzo, only to turn dark again as the baritone repeats the first stanza of the preceding movement. The symphony concludes tenderly with the chorus whispering, "Thus the harvest ends its busy reign, And leaves the fields their peace again."
Baritones Mark Stone and Roderick Williams, who’s no stranger to these pages (see the newsletter of 25 July 2007), are the respective soloists in these two works. Both are in fine voice and give dramatic, beautifully judged accounts of these stirring poems.
They receive superb support from The London Chorus and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under our composer-turned-conductor here, Ronald Corp (see the Dan Godfrey recommendation below). Credit should also go to the New London Children's Choir and members of the Highgate Chorale Society for their contributions to the first selection.
Made in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England, the recordings are very clear, and the balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra good. They project a vast soundstage appropriate to the assembled forces in a highly reverberant acoustic. This will appeal to those liking wetter sonics, and adds all the more drama to the Corp cantata. On the other hand, there is an upper digital edge to the instrumental timbre and massed voices which, had this been a hybrid disc, would probably not have been the case on the super audio tracks.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120206)
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Price, F.: Pno Conc in 1 Mvmt (rcn Weston), Sym in e (No 1); Walwyn/Dunner/NewBMREn [Albany]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born in Arkansas, Florence B. Price (née Smith, 1887-1953) moved to Boston at age fourteen where she enrolled in the New England Conservatory of Music, studying with George Chadwick (1854-1931) and Frederick Converse (1871-1940, see the Converse recommendation above). Upon her graduation in 1907, she went back to Arkansas where she taught until 1927 when her family moved to Chicago.
Continuing her composition studies there, she'd go on to write some 300 works that include four symphonies. Consequently she'd become the first black woman in the United States to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The concerto and symphony presented here, which are the only versions currently available on disc, testify to her art.
The Concerto in One Movement for piano dates from around 1934 when it was premiered with Price herself as soloist. Apparently there were no further performances after the 1930s, and as of now no known manuscript of the orchestral score has been found. So what we have here is a reconstruction done by contemporary American composer Trevor Weston (date of birth unknown). It's based primarily on a two-piano version with an orchestral reduction having detailed notes by Price as to the instrumentation.
In three distinct sections, the opening moderato begins with a brief orchestral introduction and then an extended piano cadenza, both of which hint at the sweeping main idea that soon follows. While this melody is a unique Price creation, she seems to have drawn inspiration from the Negro spiritual. She goes on to develop it in a virtuosic, harmonically inventive dialogue between soloist and tutti which ends forcefully.
After a brief pause we get a gorgeous adagio [track-1, beginning at 07:41] with a killer theme that once again seems folk-oriented. This section takes the form of a rhapsody for piano with a caressing orchestral accompaniment. However, not one to let her concerto become a romantic wallow, after another momentary pause Florence comes up with a totally infectious final allegretto [track-1, beginning at 14:42].
If you liked Naxos' Jazz Nocturne album (see the newsletter of 31 March 2011), you're going to love this! It was apparently modeled after the African-American Juba dance done by slaves on US plantations -- shades of Delius' (1862-1934) Florida Suite (1887-89). With jazzy rhythmic riffs and a folksy patina, it brings the concerto to a rousing conclusion, making it one of the "best finds" to appear so far this year.
The program continues with Price's Symphony in E Minor (No. 1, 1932), which won first prize in the 1932 Rodman Wanamaker (1863-1928, see the newsletter of 26 March 2010) Music Contest. Premiered the following year by Frederick Stock (1872-1942) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, it would be the first work from a black woman performed by a major US orchestra.
Originally it had the subtitle "Negro Symphony," which Florence later dropped probably thinking it gave the music misleading programmatic connotations. In four movements lasting almost forty minutes, the opening one is in sonata form with memorable ideas based on pentatonic melodies and syncopated rhythms typically found in Afro-American folk music. There's no denying this is just a hop and a skip away from Dvorák's (1841-1904) New World Symphony (No. 9, 1893), but with music as elegant and appealing as this, who cares!
The A-B-A slow movement begins with a moving hymn tune of Price's own design played by the brass, alternated with a lovely countermelody in the strings. These undergo a chromatically colorful development in "B." Then "A" returns, this time with tubular chimes and celesta mimicking distant church bells, to close the movement reverentially. The spirits of Dvorák (1841-1904), Delius (1862-1934) and Ketèlbey (1875-1959) float about throughout.
Both of the concluding movements are fast and significantly shorter than either of the preceding ones. They represent a return to the Juba dance concept (see the concerto above), and take the form a concluding rondo respectively. The former is another infectious offering with hints of fiddles and banjos as well as some antic slide whistle effects, all guaranteed to leave you smiling.
The latter features a scurrying three-against-two recurring tune that concludes this loveable work with all the whimsicality of Respighi's (1879-1936) ballet La boutique fantasque (The Fantastic Toy Shop; after Rossini, 1918). Along with her concerto, Price's symphony makes this release one of the year's "best finds" to date.
Up-and-coming pianist Karen Walwyn gives a magnificent account of the concerto, displaying her considerable technical skills in virtuosic passages, and a sense of restraint and sensitivity in the more subdued ones. She's given fine support by the New Black Music Repertory Ensemble of Columbia College, Chicago under Leslie B. Dunner.
The latter give a generally acceptable performance of the symphony, however there are some queasy moments in the first three movements for the brass, and particularly the trumpet. But as we've noted before, with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here.
Although the recordings were made at two different locations, they sound consistent, presenting a broad soundstage in ameliorating acoustics. While the piano is accurately captured, Ms. Walwyn's playing is so good one can't help wishing she'd been highlighted a tad more. The orchestral timbre is natural, perfectly complementing these genteel scores.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120205)
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Saint-Saëns: Orch Excs fm 4 Opera Rarities; Tourniaire/Vict O [Melba (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Except for Samson et Dalila (1876), Camille Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) twelve other operas met with little success in France, particularly Paris, and remain pretty much unknown today. This is unfortunate because there's buried musical treasure in them, some of which Melba has dug up with this invaluable hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1) release featuring orchestral excerpts from four of these.
Henry VIII of 1883 explores that monarch's (1491-1547) marital machinations involving his first wife Catherine and the ill-fated Anne Boleyn (c. 1501-1536). The second act ends with a colorful "Fête populaire" ("People's Celebration") that's a sequence of seven dances, two of which are included here. "Danse de la gipsy" ("Gypsy Dance") [track-1] is a captivating Eastern-flavored oom-pah-pah waltz, while you'll find "La fête du houblon" ("The Hops Celebration") [track-2] rustically charming.
Set in Paris, Ascanio (1890, currently unavailable on disc) is about the great Italian sculptor Benvenuto Cellini's (1500-1571) stay at the court of François I (1494-1547) in 1539. To give it more of a period flavor, Saint-Saëns created a magnificent balletic divertissement in the third act calling for ornate sets, and dancers lavishly costumed as Greek as well as Roman deities. Lasting almost half an hour, the twelve dances making it up come next.
Some of them recall Lully (1632-1687, see the newsletter of 11 July 2007) and Rameau (1683-1764) [tracks-3, 5 and 14], while others are of more romantic persuasion [tracks-7 and 12]. Highlights include a frenzied bacchanal [track-6], graceful waltz [track-8] worthy of Delibes (1836-1891), castanet-accented Neapolitan dance [track-10], and a thrilling ensemble number [track-13].
In 1879 Camille completed his fourth opera, Étienne Marcel (currently unavailable on disc), based on the life of that revolutionary figure (?-1358). The third act ballet consisting of six dances follows.
Highlights include the devil-may-care "Entrée des écoliers et des ribauds" ("Entry of the Students and Bawds") [track-15], as well as a delicate baroque-flavored pavane [track-17], airy waltz [track-18], and Tzigane-tinged "Entrée des bohémiens et bohémiennes" ("Entry of the Gypsy Men and Women") [track-19]. The flighty finale [track-20] may bring to mind Ponchielli's (1834-1886) "Dance of the Hours" from his opera La Gioconda (1876).
The disc concludes with excerpts from the three-act tragedy Les barbares (The Barbarians; 1900-01), which is about a conflict that took place between Gallo-Roman forces and German Barbarians back in 105 BC. At just over fifteen minutes the opening prelude [track-21] could almost be another Saint-Saëns tone poem.
It begins ominously, gathering momentum in bellicose passages that give way to a lovely duet for violin and oboe. This is interrupted by a heroic episode with brass embellishments and horn calls, but the music suddenly turns melancholy and climactically funereal. Then after a brief pause the prelude ends triumphantly with brass flourishes and skittering strings.
Next we have the brief prelude to the final act [track-22], which is a blithe offering anticipating the release of the Gauls by their brutal German captors. This joyful turn of events is a cause for celebration, which in French opera seems to always take the form of a ballet.
Accordingly we get two jubilant dances, the first of which [track-23] is set to a catchy polonaise rhythm, and has some piquant brass and woodwind ornamentation. The second [track-24] is a farandole, with that repeated rhythm which makes the one in Bizet's (1838-1875) incidental music for L'Arlésienne (1872) so memorable. It's the perfect ending to this delectable disc of discovery!
We're lucky to have One of today's most promising young conductors, French-born Guillaume Tourniaire, leading the Australian Orchestra Victoria here. Together they perform this little known music with a sense of conviction and dynamic shading that bring out the best in these superbly crafted scores.
Made in Robert Blackwood Hall (RBH), which is reputedly one of Melbourne's finest venues, the CD and SACD stereo tracks are excellent, projecting a highly focused but lifelike soundstage in a nurturing acoustic. The orchestral timbre on these as well as the SACD multichannel track is crystal clear with the strings sounding even more natural on the SACD ones. Those with home theater systems will find the multichannel option gives them an orchestra-center seat in RBH.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120204)
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Dan Godfrey Encores (13 orch wks by 10 British, 1 French & 1 German cmpsr); Corp/Bourn SO [Dutton]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Begun in 1893 under the direction of English bandmaster Dan Godfrey (1868-1939, knighted in 1922), the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) will celebrate its 120th anniversary next year. Accordingly this new release from Dutton with modern day recordings of some best loved Godfrey encores seems an appropriate harbinger of that imminent occasion. Many of the thirteen selections by ten British, one French, and a German composer appear for the first time on silver disc. Three are world premiere recordings, and so indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The disc opens with a Godfrey favorite, the overture to French composer Louis Ferdinand Hérold's (1791-1833) opera Zampa (1831, currently unavailable on disc), which he himself recorded as early as 1928. It's since become a pops warhorse, and the piece Hérold is best remembered by. For a somewhat different take on it click here.
A number of British works are next, beginning with Byron Brooke's (1898-1983) Gee Whizz! (1931) in a reconstruction done by our conductor, Ronald Corp, from an old 78-rpm record and some surviving band parts. This infectious fossiliferous romp, gives the Bouremouth's percussionist a chance to show off on the xylophone. Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) would have loved it!
Known more as an organist, Percy Whitlock (1903-1946) was also a composer of some note, and wrote the next selection, Carillon for organ and orchestra (1932, WPR). Dedicated to Godfrey and the BSO, this is one of those festive ceremonial pieces the English do so well. It would have been significantly more rousing had the solo instrument not been such a drab sounding "jug organ."
Best remembered for her overture to the opera The Wreckers (1906), Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) is represented by another for her comic opera The Boatswain's Mate (1914, currently unavailable on disc). An indefatigable and on occasion jailed suffragette, she includes a rousing tune borrowed from her March of the Women (date unknown and not currently available on disc).
All who love the continuing Dutton/Vocalion Paul Whiteman (1890-1967) series (see the newsletter of 10 March 2011), will love the next number. It's an infectious novelty foxtrot called Clatter of the Clogs (1930) by songwriter-band-organiser Howard Flynn (dates unknown). Your feet won't keep still for this one!
Around 1920 there was a great British interest in things Eastern, which gave rise to music like conductor-composer Sir Landon Ronald's (1873-1938) orchestral suite The Garden of Allah (1920, currently unavailable on disc). The second movement from this known as "In an Eastern Garden" is a lovely reverie for violin and orchestra that brings Albert Ketèlbey's (1875-1959) sentimental creations to mind.
Cecil Armstrong Gibbs (1889-1960) makes an appearance with his ballet The Betrothal (1921, WPR) from incidental music he wrote for Maeterlinck's (1862-1949) play Les Fiançailles (The Betrothal, c. 1920). With memorable themes skillfully developed, it looks forward to Constant Lambert's (1905-1951) Horoscope ballet of 1938.
Conductor Montague Birch (1884-1947) kept the BSO going during the World War II years (1939-45), and occasionally wrote for it. So it seems appropriate that two of his more popular pieces are included. Dance of the Nymphs (date unknown) [track-8] with its prominent celesta part is charming, and harkens back to Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy" from The Nutcracker (1892). Montague's Intermezzo (Pizzicati) (1913) [track-12] as its name implies is a plucky serenade. And once again it's not too far removed from another Tchaikovsky creation, i.e., the third movement scherzo of his fourth symphony (1877).
Turning to another woman composer, this time from Ireland, we're treated to Ina Boyle's (1889-1967) rhapsody for orchestra entitled The Magic Harp (1919) [track-9]. Like Whitlock and Gibbs (see above), she was a student of Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), which may explain the English pastoral breezes blowing through it.
We get another change of nationality with the next selection, German composer Ludwig Pleier's (dates unknown) Karlsbader Puppentanz (Dance of the Karlsbad Dolls, 1903) [track-10]. This is a light balletic number where one can imagine rosy-cheeked Fräuleins steins in hand cavorting about some Biergarten. If the pizzicato passages sound more subdued than usual, it's because the musicians are playing with goose quills instead of their fingers.
Then it's back to Britain for an excerpt from Rutland Boughton's (1878-1960) The Immortal Hour (1914), which is based on Celtic mythology, and was one of the most successful English operas written up to that time. What we have here is the first act love duet later arranged by the composer for orchestra (1924) [track-11]. You'll find it an engaging amalgam of Wagner (1813-1883) and Delius (1862-1934, see the newsletter of 27 July 2011) with some "Magic Fire Music" flames licking up halfway through.
The final encore is Cecil White's (dates unknown) A Sierra Melody (1931) [track-13] as reconstructed by Malcolm Riley (b. 1960). A winsome "British Light" piece set to a South American beat, there are solos for cello and muted trumpet with some celesta asides. It ends this imaginative release on a wistful note.
All of these pieces are Bournemouth specialties, and one couldn't ask for more authoritative performances than from the BSO itself. Under conductor-composer Ronald Corp (see the Corp recommendation above) they play these selections with a pops panache totally appropriate to the occasion. The same can be said for the several soloists featured in them.
The recordings were made in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England, and project a spacious soundstage in an ideally reverberant acoustic. The balance between the many solo instrumentalists and orchestra is good. However, the xylophone in Gee Whizz! seems stretched across the rear of the orchestra, creating an amusing back-and-forth, ping-pong ball effect like that found on many early stereo demonstration discs.
The orchestral timbre is pleasing with delicate tinkling highs and solid bass. Audiophiles will find these brilliantly scored pieces, many with colorful percussive effects, a titillating test of their systems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120203)
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