CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
22 MARCH 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.
Berio, L.: Rendering (Schubert Sym 10; w Brahms & Mahler); Gardner/Bergen PO [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
One of the most important Italian composers of the twentieth century, Luciano Berio (1925-2003) is probably best remembered for his highly eclectic style. This resulted from his love for amalgamating contemporary compositional techniques with a wide variety of music from the past. The three selections on this outstanding new Chandos hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release are good examples of the extraordinary success he had in doing this.
Towards the end of his life Franz Schubert (1797-1828) took counterpoint lessons from Austrian music theorist Simon Sechter (1788-1867) -- he would later mentor Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) -- and began work on a tenth symphony. He must have been rather penurious, because he wrote his exercises and sketches on the same pieces of paper. Consequently the latter wouldn't be recognized for what they were until the 1970s.
Rather than creating a performing realization of the tenth as British musicologist and Schubert authority Brian Newbould (b. 1936) did in 1995, Berio took a much more novel approach. His Rendering completed in 1989 might be likened to an archipelago of immaculately scored Schubertian fragments poking up through a shimmering sea of eerie Berio musings. These waters teem with haunting allusions to Franz’s other late works, including the first piano trio (D 898, 1827) and twenty-first piano sonata (D 960, 1828).
Rendering adheres to the tenth's apparent three-movement design, and requires an orchestra like that for the Unfinished (No. 8, 1822) and Great (No. 9, 1825-28) symphonies, but with the addition of a celesta. The latter marks transitions between land-based fact and oceanic conjecture.
The initial allegro starts out on land with a literal transcription of a fragment that probably would have been the symphony's opening theme (SO). However, the celesta soon tells us [track-1, beginning at 01:55] the Schubertian shoreline has just been engulfed by Berian waters. More islands then appear and disappear with the movement ending in a thrilling coda based on SO.
Although it’s more completely sketched out than either of the other movements, the following andante begins and ends at sea, but with a central “Isle of Schubert” consisting of a slow march-like theme. This is lovingly developed, and the informative album notes tell us Berio even includes a canon based on one of those counterpoint exercises mentioned above.
The scherzo-finale [track-3] also gets off to a pelagic start, but another atoll of Schubert soon appears in the form of a fetching bouncy melody (FB) [00:20]. It's followed by a second more relaxed fragment [1:08], and more liquescent Berio. FB then returns and is developed, after which we're treated to a third remnant [04:33]. Some clever variational manipulations leading to a lively dance episode are next. After that alternating bits of Schubert and Berio close out the movement with Franz having the last say!
Just a couple of years before he died Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote two clarinet sonatas (1894), which could also be performed with a viola as the solo instrument. Then in 1986 on a commission from the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Berio made an orchestral arrangement of the first one.
In four movements, it's done here with clarinet and Luciano’s expansion of it is pretty much in keeping with the original. However, he did add some brief Brahmsian tinged introductory passagework at the beginning of the first two movements in hopes of making it more compatible with large concert halls.
The opening allegro finds Brahms at the height of his melodic inventiveness and developmental powers. That along with an orchestral setting give it a dramatic intensity worthy of more impassioned moments in Johannes' last symphony (No. 4, 1884-5). On the other hand, the mellifluous andante is one of the most refined and lyrically subtle movements the German master ever wrote.
The winsome waltzlike allegretto blossoms all the more for Berio's colorful tutti, and has the same rustic lilt found in some of Brahms' Hungarian Dances (1852-69). It's a welcome interlude before the whimsical final vivace, which begins with an infectious scurrying theme (IS) notable for its first three repeated notes. Each of these is accented, and may remind you of the conclusion from Respighi's (1879-1936) La boutique fantasque (The Fantastic Toyshop, 1919). Other memorable motifs follow with IS popping up between them in rondo fashion. This “sonata-concerto” then ends with spirited shards of IS.
Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) probably composed fourteen of his earliest songs for voice and piano between 1880 and 1990, but for some reason or another never got around to providing them with an orchestral accompaniment. Enter Berio, who did so in 1987, setting six of them for baritone and a Mahler-sized orchestra (see the album notes for the text in English, French and German).
Titled Sechs frühe Lieder (Six Early Songs), the first two are pastoral offerings. "Hans und Grete" ("Hansel and Gretel"), is set to a graceful ländler, part of which would appear in the scherzo of Gustav's Titan Symphony (No. 1, 1888-98). In the second, "Ich ging mit Lust durch einen grünen Wald" ("I Went Gaily into a Greenwood"), the winds become wood birds adding a forestial freshness with their avian calls. The brief jaunty "Frühlingsmorgen" ("Spring Morning"), may bring Das klagende Lied (The Song of Lamentation, 1880-99) to mind, while there's a folkish melancholy about "Phantasie" ("Imagination") with its broken harp and pizzicato accompaniment.
This six-pack of songs ends with an upper and a downer. Fiery orchestral outbursts and horn calls turn "Scheiden und Meiden" ("Parting and Missing") into a volcano of manic exhilaration. On the other hand "Erinnerung" ("Recollection") is an amorous lament with heart-rending sighs and cries from the winds.
Up-and-coming conductor Edward Garner (b. 1974) gets exemplary performances of all three works from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. And as far as studio recordings of Rendering are concerned, this easily surpasses what little competition is out there. With clarinetist Michael Collins and baritone Roderick Williams, whom we've had good things to say about before (see the newsletter of 8 February 2012), the Brahms and Mahler are equally outstanding.
Made in the Grieg Hall, Bergen, Norway, the recordings are very listener friendly. The CD and SACD stereo tracks project a moderately wide but deep soundstage in a warm, considerably reverberant acoustic that should appeal to those preferring wetter sonics. The SACD multichannel track gives you a center orchestra seat.
The instrumental timbre is natural throughout, particularly in the SACD modes where the music seems more airborne with minimal glare. Mr. Collins' dulcet clarinet tone is beautifully captured and balanced against the orchestra. However, there are a couple of spots where one could wish Mr. Williams' marvelously expressive voice had been better highlighted. But after all is said and done, the Chandos production staff gets kudos for another audiophile winner!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120322)
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Fitzenhagen: Vc Conc 2, Demon Fant, 6 Pcs (vc & pno); Maintz/Rivinius/Rundel/Mun RO [Oehms]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
In past years US buyers found it difficult to get Oehms CDs because they were represented by one of the flakiest distributors to ever hit the streets. But that's all changed now since that label has joined the distinguished family of recording companies represented by Naxos. Consequently a number of their past highly desirable discs such as the one here are now readily available.
German-born Wilhelm Fitzenhagen (1848-1890) was a Wunderkind whose instrument of choice was the cello from age eleven on. At twenty he was offered a couple of attractive positions, but finally accepted an offer from Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881), younger brother of Anton (1829-1894, see below and the newsletter of 26 January 2011), to become professor of cello at the newly established Moscow Conservatory.
He would remain in Moscow for the rest of his life, and along with another great cellist, Carl Davidoff (1838-1889, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010) of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, founded the legendary Russian cello school, whose alumni would include such greats as Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009), Mstislav Rostropovich (1927-2007) and Mischa Maisky (b. 1948). Fitzenhagen would also take part in premieres of several important works by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), including the Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra (1876), which was dedicated to him, and piano trio of 1881-82.
During his Moscow years he would turn composer, writing a substantial number of works for his instrument that included four concertos, and numerous occasional pieces with piano accompaniment. It's the second of these concertos and a sampling of the latter we're treated to on this disc.
Written in 1871, the concerto is in three movements and obviously owes a debt to Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) only effort in the genre (1850, see the newsletter of 28 April 2007). More specifically the thematic material has the same catchy angularity found in the older composer's music. But when it comes to bravura displays for the soloist and colorful orchestration, Wilhelm easily outdoes Robert.
That’s true right from the maestoso opening where a brilliant brass fanfare introduces some demanding passages for the soloist. These give him a chance to strut his stuff, and hint at the main idea soon to come. It’s a memorable melody having a tessitura ideally suited to the cello, and is followed by another more relaxed theme. The two undergo a virtuosic development that includes cadenza-like pronouncements, and a lovely harp-embellished bridge right into the next andante movement.
This is a delectable aria for the cello with more colorful harp embroidery in addition to woodwind decorations, and a couple of emotional outbursts reminiscent of Tchaikovsky. It ends with a leading tone on the cello anticipating the first note of the final allegro, which follows almost immediately.
This could be considered the recapitulation we never got in the first movement as the thematic material is drawn from there. But Fitzenhagen cleverly reworks it, gives the soloist a killer cadenza, and then ends the work with a thrilling coda recalling the concerto's opening measures.
Seven of his occasional pieces for cello and piano probably dating from the early 1880s are next. These are in some ways comparable to those of another famous cellist-composer of the day, Czech-born David Popper (1843-1913, see the newsletter of 31 October 2009). However, unlike his music Wilhelm's has a seriousness of purpose that would make it misleading to label it as salon fare.
Elegie has a tenebrous Slavic urgency worthy of Tchaikovsky, while the A-B-A structured Capriccio gives the cello contrasting roles. It flits along in the outer sections like some bumblebee over a Magyar-sounding piano accompaniment worthy of Liszt (1811-1886). But sings a gracefully amorous cantilena in the inner one.
The next three numbers, Serenade, Gavotte and Impromptu, could well be derived from folk sources. They are successively imploring, sprightly with some sul ponticello, and tunefully flowing. Played sequentially as they are here, they could almost be considered a short suite.
The composer regularly attended church concerts sponsored by the Lutheran community in Moscow, and wrote a number of pieces for them. The Ave Maria which follows falls into that category, and adds a sacred dimension to the program.
But heavenly matters turn diabolical with the next selection, Dämonenfantasie (The Demon Fantasy), inspired by Anton Rubinstein's (see above) opera The Demon (1875), which was a big hit in its day. Employing melodies from it, Fitzenhagen's fifteen-minute pastiche is an inventive "themes with variations." The thrilling ending [track-10, beginning at 11:12] is based on the first dance sequence from the opera’s second act ballet, and gives the cellist an opportunity to show off his technical prowess.
This engaging release concludes with an encore that's another version of the Ave Maria presented earlier. Originally written for either piano or harmonium accompaniment, this time around we get the latter, which is probably similar to what you would have heard in one of those Moscow church concerts.
Award-winning cellist Jens Peter Maintz's performances include some stunning displays of virtuosity. But more importantly his attention to rhythmic and dynamic details ensures the concerto a place with the best in this genre, and guarantees the chamber pieces never degenerate into trite “salonery.”
Conductor Peter Rundel and the Munich Radio Orchestra provide him with superb support in the concerto. Keyboardist Paul Rivinius is the ideal accompanist in the chamber selections, displaying his own considerable technical abilities in the Capriccio as well as the demonic fantasy.
Coproduced with Bavarian Radio and recorded in one of their studios, the disc projects a perfectly proportioned soundstage for the concerto as well as the chamber pieces. In a slightly reverberant but warm acoustic, the cello is ideally balanced against the orchestra, and placed with respect to the piano/harmonium. Both soloists are convincingly captured and the orchestral timbre is totally natural, making this an immaculate sounding CD. Romantics and audiophiles will love it!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120321)
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Grieg: Stg Qts 1 & 2 (arr stg orch Ardal); Nordheim: Rendezvous; Barratt-Due/OsloCam [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
This new release from Naxos features three Norwegian string quartets arranged for string orchestra. They include both of Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907) extant ones, as well as a piece by Arne Nordheim (1931-2010). You'll find this release particularly attractive as it has the only currently available recording of Grieg's second quartet in this form, and offers all three works at Naxos' usual attractive price.
It seems Grieg attempted a string quartet as early as 1862, but that's long since been lost. So it's his second effort of 1877-78 which is now considered numero uno. In composing it the composer once said his intention was to write an extremely expansive work utilizing the full range of all four instruments. Consequently that may be what his publisher had in mind when upon first seeing it he complained about a thickness of texture.
All this undoubtedly explains why the piece lends itself so well to Norwegian conductor-arranger Alf Ardal's expanded version presented here. He tells us he wanted to preserve the quartet's original mood, while bringing out the depth and power written into it. He goes on to say Mahler's (1860-1911) arrangement for strings of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Serioso Quartet (No. 11, 1810) was of considerable help.
The first of the quartet’s four movements begins with an expressive andante motif (EA) not too far removed from the opening of Edvard's piano concerto (1868). It's immediately transformed into an impetuous allegro theme (IA) [track-1, beginning at 00:40], which foreshadows the impassioned mood of this movement. A lovely melancholy melody (LM) [track-1, beginning at 02:00] reminiscent of his more wistful string pieces follows, after which IA and LM undergo an extended dramatic development, ending in an energetic coda based on EA.
Another killer Grieg ditty is the subject for a series of fetching variations in the next romanze, while the subsequent intermezzo begins with a forceful confident motif (CF) distantly related to EA. It's the main idea for the latter movement's beginning and ending, which surround a scherzo-like central section [track-3, beginning at 02:30] with a theme that would later appear in the third of his Norwegian Dances for orchestra (1887).
The dramatically tense opening of the finale recalls EA, and is soon followed by a couple of lively folkish foot-tapping tunes. These recur throughout the movement in a variety of developmental guises, with the movement ending in a poignant coda [track-4, beginning at 07:51] built around EA.
In 1891 Grieg started the second of his surviving quartets, but would only finish the first two movements. Like his preceding effort there's a robustness and density about the original that makes it ideally suited to Ardal’s expanded version that's next. This is evident right from the introductory flippant sostenuto chordal riff (FS) that will recur as a unifying motif throughout the movement. It's summarily followed by a sonata form allegro with memorable themes immediately identifiable as Grieg, and ends with an FS-related "So there!"
The concluding movement is an A-B-A allegro-scherzando, whose outer sections revolve around a squeaky mouselike theme with a cynicism that may reflect the difficulties Grieg was going through at this stage of his life. On the other hand, the central part [track-6, beginning at 02:36] is a spirited dance that could almost be a Highland Fling, which one could rationalize as in keeping with the composer's paternal Scottish ancestry.
Unfortunately as far as this selection is concerned, "That's all, folks!" But those interested in hearing what Grieg might have intended for the last two movements should check the performing realizations done by his good friend Dutch composer Julius Röntgen (1855-1932, see the newsletter of 22 November 2011), and British violinist Levon Chilingirian (b. 1948) of the Chilingirian Quartet.
A CD with music from a country whose northernmost regions lie in the "Land of the Midnight Sun" wouldn't be complete without a little Nordic gloom. Accordingly this release is filled out with Nordheim's dour Rendezvous for string orchestra, which is a 1986 reworking of an untitled string quartet he wrote in 1956.
In three movements, the first called "Praeambulum" is a morose fantasia with wrenching rhythmic accents. It seems to take its cue from Bartok's (1881-1945) Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) as well as his Concerto for orchestra (1942-45), or even the more anguished movements in Shostakovich's (1906-1975) War Symphonies (Nos. 4-9, 1935-45).
The next "Intermezzo" is a high-strung scherzoesque offering that puts the listener's nerves on edge. While the concluding "Nachruf" ("Obituary") is just that, ending Nordheim's Stygian stringed ruminations in abject darkness. You'll have the urge to either hoist a few or blow your brains out after playing this!
The nineteen-member Oslo Camerata under their lead violinist Stephan Barratt-Due generate a ravishing string sound, playing these selections with breathtaking enthusiasm and precision. As far as the Grieg is concerned, having listened to these expanded versions chances are you'll reach for them instead of the originals the next time you want to hear his quartets.
Made in an Oslo church the recordings are very good, projecting a modestly wide but deep soundstage in a warm reverberant acoustic. This makes the string sound all the richer, and adds a musicality which puts this disc in the demonstration category.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120320)
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Hérold: Pno Concs Cpte (4); Pondepeyre/Van Alphen/ColWDR RO [Talent]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
A few weeks back we told you about a couple of rare piano concertos by Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937, see the newsletter of 6 January 2012). Well, here are more by yet another French composer, Louis Joseph Ferdinand Hérold (1791-1833), who’s best remembered for his operas, and the overture to Zampa (1831, opera currently unavailable on disc) in particular (see the newsletter of 8 February 2012).
All four of Hérold's concertos are included in this new Talent 2-CD set. Unlike the Widor of 1876 and 1905, which are late romantic fare, these date from between 1811 and 1813, thereby bridging the classical and early romantic periods.
The first concerto is atypically in two movements, and begins with a charming allegro. After a sprightly introduction worthy of Mozart's (1756-1791) later piano concertos (1785-91), a couple of engaging themes are introduced and developed in an inventive dialogue between soloist and tutti. Delicate runs on the piano and interesting countermelodies in the strings make this movement all the more attractive.
The following rondo is based on an infectious recurring ditty (IR) that could well be derived from some folk song. In this cleverly constructed movement, the composer alternates variants of IR, one of which is an extended cadenza, with the theme itself. The concerto then ends in a cheery coda based on IR.
Hérold conforms to the usual three movement structure for the second concerto. With a slightly longer introduction, the opening allegro is a bit more urbane than that of its predecessor. You'll also find the thematic material of greater sophistication and somewhat darker hue.
Harmonically speaking it's more adventurous, and may bring Beethoven's (1770-1827) efforts in this genre (1797-1809) to mind. This is particularly true of the andante, whose main theme is curiously spiked with two accented descending notes. It also features a dramatic outburst for soloist and orchestra, as well as a winsome cadenza before the movement ends perfunctorily.
The concerto concludes with another rondo whose simple songlike (SS) main idea could again be of folk origin. The formal structure is similar to the rondo in the first concerto, but there’s a greater sense of development between reappearances of SS. The movement is made all the more colorful with resonant horn calls as well as strumming piano passages, and brings the first CD to a smiling conclusion.
Moving to the second disc we get the third concerto, which is also in three movements, and begins with an allegro. While there's a classical structural simplicity about it, the thematic material is the most romantic so far, anticipating what would soon come from Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see the newsletter of 21 December 2009) and Chopin (1810-1849). There are more arresting horn calls in the introduction, and the piano part is notable for some exceptionally elegant passages.
The composer comes up with a new twist for the andante, which is a moving duet for just violin and piano! A tragic languorous melody is introduced by the violin followed by a slightly more hopeful motif on the piano that augurs late Chopin. But the violin returns to dominate and end the movement with its sad lament.
Once again Hérold chooses to conclude the concerto with a rondo, this time centered around a perky childlike idea. It's subjected to a series of inventive transformations that include a short cadenza, and always reappears after each of these in its original form. It takes one last bow just before the concerto ends with six thrilling ff chords for full orchestra.
The composer returns to the two-movement format for the fourth and final concerto, whose initial allegro opens with an operatic intensity worthy of Carl Maria von Weber's (1786-1826) highly dramatic moments. While the piano part is more grandiloquent than anything in the first three, Hérold tempers it with busy flowing passagework, giving the soloist opportunities to dazzle the audience. The overall effect is quite stunning!
But reason prevails in the final moderato with an enchanting melody and imaginative development which may make it for many the most appealing movement here. There's a simple tunefulness and sincerity about it which would seem to characterize this composer, who'd go on to win the Grand Prix de Rome the same year he wrote this concerto.
Pianist Angéline Pondepeyre plays these concerti with a finesse and lightness of touch perfectly suited to their character. She does this by never allowing her considerable technical skill to overwhelm the music, using it only to better articulate the melodic intricacies of these delicate scores. That along with sympathetic, beautifully tailored support from the WDR Radio Orchestra of Cologne under South African conductor Conrad van Alphen, guarantee you some highly enjoyable listening.
It should also be noted that not long ago the Mirare label issued the last three concertos on a single disc. Comparing that to what we have here and disregarding cost, from the CROCKS perspective this new Talent release seems preferable from both the programming and execution standpoints. Not only does it give you all four concerti, but the performances seem to better bring out the infectious insouciance and ingenuous lyricism of this music.
Made at WDR's large studio in Cologne, the recordings are superb, projecting a modest soundstage in a warm, optimally reverberant acoustic. The piano is perfectly captured with every note well-rounded and clear as a bell even in the most animated passages. It's ideally balanced against the orchestra, whose instrumental timbre is very natural sounding. When it comes to classically proportioned piano concertos, this set is certainly demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120319)
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Horneman, C.: 3 Orch Stes, Ov Héroique; Gustavsson/DanNa VocEn & SO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
RECOMMENDED (1 SACD)
Born into an initially well-to-do family, Danish composer Christian Frederik Emil Horneman (1840-1906) showed musical talent at an early age, and would go on to study in Leipzig. But his father experienced financial difficulties while he was there, forcing his return to Copenhagen in 1860.
From then on he'd spend most of his time teaching in order to make a living. And that along with a growing inferiority complex, which assumed pathological proportions in his later years, significantly stifled his creative output. This was unfortunate, judging from the sample of his orchestral music on this new Dacapo hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release.
Horneman's daughter and son-in-law were both involved with the theater, which may explain why the little he did write was mostly stage-related. Accordingly, three of the four selections included here are suites from incidental music he composed for plays, beginning with Holger Drachmann's (1846-1908) 1899 romantic drama Gurre. Based on an ancient Danish legend, four of the ten numbers C.F.E. wrote for it in 1900 comprise the opening suite on this disc.
First we get the overture with arresting story-related, hunting horn calls, and a winsome tune [track-1, beginning at 00:59] with an innocence suggestive of the young Tove (see the album notes). The moving preludes to the second, fourth and fifth acts follow. They are in order melodically melancholy, apprehensively foreboding, and playfully coquettish. This is music of great charm and delicacy depicting subject matter that would also inspire Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) massive cantata Gurrelieder (1900-11).
As for the next suite, it's based on music for Karl Gjellerup's (1857-1919) dramatic poem Kampen med Muserne (Battle with the Muses, 1886-87), which was originally known as Thamyris. Unfortunately the confusion that reigned supreme regarding the genesis and staging of this production also extends to the album notes. So you're on your own when it comes to figuring out who did what to whom!
Suffice it to say the drama seems to have been in three parts consisting of a prologue with the preceding title, a pastoral play by the name of Myrtis, and another called Marsyas involving satyrs. It would seem Horneman's music was only for the last part, and not completed until 1896.
The suite on this disc contains four selections, beginning with "Solopgang" ("Sunrise"), which opens quietly with what one could imagine as bird calls, the first rays of dawn, and rustling morning breezes. The music builds presumably as the landscape brightens, and then the next number, "Muse-Kor" ("Chorus of the Muses"), for female voices and orchestra follows almost immediately (see the album notes for the text in Danish and English).
This is a lovely dreamy offering that couldn't be further from the subsequent "Satyrdans" ("Dance of the Satyrs"), which despite a lethargic beginning turns into a cloven-hoofed cavort. The mood becomes even more orgiastic in the concluding "Bakkantisk Dans" ("Bacchantic Dance"), which ends the suite in an intoxicating whirlwind of sound. These two last numbers may bring to mind Gabriel Pierné's (1863-1937) ballet Cydalise et le chèvre-pied, which would appear some twenty years later (1914-15).
One of the composer's rare nontheatrical pieces, a concert overture from 1867, is next. Called Ouverture Héroique, or Helteliv (A Hero's Life), he wrote it during a stay in Munich, and there's no hint of any underlying program other than the title. Lasting about twelve minutes, it's in a cleverly modified version of sonata form, making one regret all the more that C.F.E. never composed any larger symphonic works.
The ominous introductory section (OI) with its plaintive winds, sorrowful strings and heartbeat timpani soon gives way to an ecstatic heroic episode (EH) that's a cross between Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) and Peter IlyichTchaikovsky (1840-1893). These two contrasting thematic groups undergo a skillful development, ending in several concerto-like 6/4 chords [track-9, beginning at 05:45] that announce the recapitulation. At first based on EH, it begins pensively, quickly gathering momentum and transforming into a thrilling coda. However, this soon subsides as the overture ends with sad remembrances of OI.
The disc concludes with a five-part suite drawn from music Horneman wrote in 1890 for a belated production of Frederik Paludan-Müller's (1809-1876) 1854 tragedy Kalanus. About an encounter between an Indian ascetic of that name and Alexander the Great, the leadoff "Introduktion og Bön ("Introduction and Prayer") begins and ends with peacefully meditative passages having a motif that at times recalls the "Dies Irae" (see the newsletter of 8 February 2012). These surround a more animated central episode with colorful repeated brass fanfares.
The succeeding "Festmusik og Kalanus' Dom ("Festive Music and Sentencing of Kalanus) is initially bright and joyful, but turns suddenly fateful with sweeping string passages. While the "Alexander" section is a proud heroic number with stirring brass and wind embellishments.
The suite ends with "Kalanus i Feberdrömme" ("Kalanus in Feverish Dreams'), and the introduction to the fifth act titled "Kalanus Död" ("Kalanus' Death"). The former is appropriately halting and restless, while the latter is in a tragic minor key except for one last major chord. This probably signifies the guru's belief that his death would be the gateway to eternal enlightenment and bliss.
Our performing groups are the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Vocal Ensemble, whose female singers provide the choral support called for in the second suite. Under Sweden's Johannes Gustavsson (b. 1975), who's one of today's leading young conductors, they give exceptionally spirited performance of this music, making a strong case for these symphonic curiosities. Horneman couldn't have better advocates, who leave what little competition there is in the dust!
Made in one of the world's finest venues, the Danish National Radio Concert Hall, Copenhagen, the SACD multitrack version is spectacular, and will put you orchestra center in this space-age auditorium. But for some strange reason the CD and SACD stereo tracks project a significantly narrower, more distant sonic image of the orchestra and chorus.
As far as the instrumental timbre and voice quality are concerned, there's a bit of highend digital twinkle in the CD mode, but the more airy SACD tracks are quite natural sounding. All things considered, what we have here is a case where those with multichannel sound systems will find this a demonstration quality disc, while stereo listeners may have some reservations.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120318)
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Huber, H.: Phant (vn & pno), Vn Sons 5 & 6 "Appassionata"; Colliard/Altwegg [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Four years ago we told you about a relatively unknown, but exceptionally gifted Swiss-born, German-trained musician named Hans Huber (1852-1921, see the newsletter of 30 March 2008). He was a highly revered teacher, who could count Frank Martin (1890-1974) among his students, as well as a prolific composer (eight symphonies). The enterprising Guild label explores his considerable chamber output with this release of a fantasy for violin and piano in addition to a couple of his ten other violin sonatas.
Written around 1870, the Phantasie is an amazingly mature work that belies the composer's early age. Atypically in four movements, the opening one labelled "Vorspiel" ("Prelude") begins with a sad langsam theme (SL) on the piano soon joined by the violin. However, grief is short-lived, and SF is converted via an accelerando passage into a cheerful allegro subject (CA) [track-1, beginning at 02:21]. This is developed with a brief return of SF, and then the movement ends frenetically.
The following slow movement is based on a reverent chorale-like melody (RC), whose beginning oddly enough anticipates the big tune from Sibelius' (1865-1957) Finlandia (1899-1900). It undergoes several variational transformations at times recalling Brahms (1833-1897), who was an early influence on Huber.
However, the tempo picks up with the engaging prestissimo, which has fleeting outer sections. They surround a more subdued episode with a comely hymnlike idea (CH) [track-3, beginning at 01:35] that's a cousin of RC.
The jubilant finale begins with some ebullient passagework that heralds the return of CA [track-4, beginning at 01:17]. This is further developed in a series of harmonic sequences, after which there's a remembrance of CH [track-4, beginning at 05:15]. The fantasy then goes on to end in an ecstatic coda riddled with CA. Not bad for an eighteen-year-old!
The following fifth and sixth violin sonatas are much later works (c. 1900), each laid out in the customary three movements. Although there are still traces of Brahms, both are more harmonically sophisticated, anticipating Max Reger's (1873-1916, see the newsletter of 9 June 2009) peripatetic chromaticism.
Without getting into a detailed analysis (see the informative album notes), the fifth begins with a highly romantic allegro notable for its distinctive subject material. It's followed almost immediately by a tarantella-like presto, and then a closing allegretto. The latter is just about as long as the first two movements in tandem, and opens with a moving aria for the violin. A skillful development ensues with the initial song recurring in rondo fashion, and finally leading to an amorous concluding coda.
The sixth "Appassionata" ("Passionate") sonata is apparently based on material from the first movement of an 1885 violin concerto (currently unavailable on disc). This undoubtedly explains the Brahmsian touches and concertante aspect of the opening adagio-allegro, where the violin and piano become soloist and orchestra respectively. Lasting almost fifteen minutes, the movement is all the more exciting for the dramatic virtuosic concerto-like dialogue between the two!
The next adagio couldn't be more in keeping with the sonata's subtitle as it finds the composer at his most romantically inclined. The beginning and ending are based on a beautiful spun-out melody. It’s made all the more attractive by the insertion of a central fugal episode [track-9, beginning at 03:17] that prevents it from becoming a romantic wallow. Reminders of this movement and its predecessor appear in the inventive hyper finale, which ends this exceptional sonata on a chromatically whimsical note.
Swiss violinist Gilles Colliard and pianist Timon Altwegg give good accounts of these selections, tempering their enthusiasm and virtuosity in animated movements with great sensitivity for the more romantically subdued ones. Pointy-eared listeners may notice a couple of queasy violin spots that'll soon be forgotten in the context of this enthralling music.
These studio recordings project a solid sonic image in a reverberant acoustic with the two instruments well-balanced against one another. The violin is natural sounding except for an occasional hotspot in its upper registers, while the piano is favorably reproduced with a bright well-rounded percussive tone.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120317)
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