CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 MAY 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.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco; Pno Concs 1 & 2, 4 Dances...; Marangoni/Mogrelia/Malmö SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
With recommendations for seven of them including the two here, we run the risk of turning this newsletter into a concerto blowout. But here goes anyway, beginning with these for piano by Italian composer Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968) on this highly enjoyable Naxos release! A student of Pizzetti (1880-1968, see the newsletter of 10 September 2010) and Casella (1883-1947, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010), he was eventually forced to flee Europe with the rise of Naziism.
And just like Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957, see the newsletter of 31 March 2011) and Alexander Tansman (1897-1986, see the newsletter of 25 May 2011) , he finally wound up in Los Angeles, where he'd supplement his income by writing film scores. However, all of these composers as well as another Hollywood film score giant of the time, Hungarian expatriate Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995, see the newsletter of 18 April 2011), would continue to write concert music. In Mario’s case this included the four dances filling out this disc, which receive their world premiere here.
The three-movement first concerto is a youthful romantic work dating from 1927. It's full of wonderful melodies right from the start of the opening allegro [track-1], which begins with a cheery chuckling theme (CC) [00:35]. This is the subject for a colorful dialogue between soloist and tutti that includes a rhapsodic central episode [05:26] with winsome passages for cello and winds. A jolly chortling bassoon [07:32] introduces the lighter-than-air final moments having cadenza-like asides for the soloist. The movement then ends uneventfully with a whimsical recap of CC.
The andantino alla romanza that's next [track-2] is based on a theme that may bring to mind the one opening Joaquin Rodrigo's (1901-1999) Fantasia para un gentilhombre (1954) of twenty-two years later. It's a lovely affecting aria for the orchestra beautifully embroidered by the soloist, and has a couple of dramatic timpani-accented passages.
A closing trill and upward run on the piano announce the final movement marked vivo e festoso [track-3]. This opens with an extended frenzied tarantella-like idea (FT) [00:20] that's cleverly developed, giving the soloist a chance to show off his technical prowess. The music then subsides into a pensive march-like episode that gradually increases in tempo as well as intensity, finally ending in a short cadenza. The orchestra returns recalling FT, and the work concludes in a state of ecstatic jubilation.
The second concerto of ten years later (1936-37) is structurally more refined with a greater sense of confidence and control than its predecessor. Written while Italy was under Fascist rule, which was one of the worst periods for the composer, it's not surprising to find somber meditative moments in an otherwise optimistic work.
Again in three movements, the opening vivace e brillante [track-4] begins as the orchestra with some campanological embellishments bursts forth like the sun from behind a cloud. The piano enters in an equally radiant state and proceeds to mull over the delightful thematic material that's just been presented. An engaging developmental conversation between soloist and tutti with intervals of introspection ensues. The movement ends with some flashy keyboard pyrotechnics and an excited orchestra, all reminiscent of Rachmaninov (1873-1943).
The romanza, tranquillo e meditative which follows [track-5] is one of the composer's most comely creations, and the concerto's emotional core. Passages of lyric delicacy and introspection make up this masterfully crafted exchange between piano and orchestra.
Like the first concerto, a closing trill on the piano marks the outset of the final vivo e impetuoso [track-6], which begins with a somewhat demonic dance-like idea (DD). This is treated in rondo fashion, reappearing in a variety of forms interspersed with a couple of introspective passages [03:32 and 06:04]. The orchestra and soloist then recall DD in a glorious coda, ending the concerto triumphantly.
The composer had a great love for Shakespeare (1564-1616), and wrote a number of works inspired by his plays. These include eleven overtures (1930-53), which we already told you about (see the newsletter of 22 November 2010), and the Four Dances from Love's Labour's Lost (mid-1590s) written in 1953, which are next.
Never published, they're presented here for the first time thanks to our pianist Alessandro Marangoni, who made a performing version from the original manuscript. Without getting into the rather involved plot details surrounding each (see the album notes), the series begins with brilliantly scored, romanticized versions of two 16th century dances. The lissome opening "Sarabande" finds Mario at his most graceful. While there's a jocose air about the following "Gavotte," which is a melodic amalgam of Rossini's (1792-1868) "Buona sera, mio signore" in Act II of The Barber of Seville (1816), and Verdi's (1813-1901) "Dance of the Priestesses" from Act I of Aida (1871).
Two colorful ethnically inspired numbers close out the work. The first is a "Spanish Dance" with castanets and Iberian rhythms that begins somewhat like the "Miller's Dance" in Manuel de Falla's (1876-1946) The Three-cornered Hat (1915). Apparently it's meant to be a portrait of the braggadocio Don Armado in Shakespeare's comedy.
Moving eastwards, we get a "Russian Dance" that quite honestly sounds more Oriental than Slavic. To wit, it starts off like the "Tea (Chinese) Dance" in Act II of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) The Nutcracker (1884), and has moments reminiscent of Reinhold Glière's (1875-1956) The Red Poppy (1927) with some arresting solo brass passages and percussive effects. But who cares as it ends this symphonic rarity with an appealing cinematic touch, and a final bass-drum-reinforced sforzando that'll knock you across the room!
Judging from his handling of these concertos, young Italian pianist Alessandro Marangoni is obviously a first-class virtuoso. But more importantly he has a lightness of touch and affinity for these scores, which along with some equally sensitive support from British conductor Andrew Mogrelia and the Malmö Symphony Orchestra (MSO), bring this delicate music to life. The same can be said for the dances, which Mogrelia and company perform with great relish.
The Concert Hall of the MSO in Malmö, Sweden was the venue for these recordings, which project an ideally proportioned soundstage in a suitably reverberant acoustic. While clarity reigns across the entire frequency spectrum, the high end never becomes oppresive. The piano is beautifully captured with well rounded tone perfectly complementing Signore Marangoni's delicate touch, and for the most part remains well balanced against the orchestra. The instrumental timbre is very musical with shimmering highs and profound bass which is exceptionally clean, even in the presence of that bass drum (see above).
By the way, there are other versions of both concertos, one of which we already told you about (see the newsletter of 30 September 2010). However, this release now goes to the top of the list from both the performance and sound standpoints. What's more, you also get a world premiere, and all at the low Naxos bill of fare!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120531)
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Chisholm: Pno Concs 1 "Pìobaireachd" & 2 'Hindustani"; Driver/Macdonald/BBCScot SO [Hyperion]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
A couple of years ago we told you about some extraordinary orchestral music by Scottish composer Erik Chisholm (1904-1965, see the newsletter of 25 April 2010), and now Hyperion gives us his two piano concertos. Like the music of Béla Bartók (1881-1945), who was a good friend, these rely heavily on folk sources, but from Scotland and India rather than Eastern Europe.
The four-movement first piano concerto (1932, revised 1937) is subtitled "Pìobaireachd," which is Scottish Gaelic for "Pipe Music." And so it should be considering its thematic ideas are based on Highlands bagpipe tunes, which give this concertante creation an entirely different sound.
The opening movement [track-1] begins quietly, and then the oboe [00:13] followed by the piano [01:00] play a sad slow ditty (SS) based on a lament over a lost cow. This may sound a little silly today, but it would have been cause for great concern in Highlands communities whose livelihood had for centuries been dependent on cattle. Be that as it may, it’s a mesmerizing number, and the subject for seven developmental transformations that fill out the movement.
The first [02:13] is a vivacious reworking of SS that gracefully fades into a rhapsodic second [03:33]. The jiggish third [05:03] is quite infectious, and followed by two for solo piano, which are respectively cadenza-like [07:01] and nostalgic [08:26]. The work ends with a mournful sixth [09:15] and sobbing seventh [10:21] in final remembrance of that missing kyloe.
A vivacious Scottish dance is the source material for the next allegro scherzando. An exciting whirlwind movement, there's a rhythmic unpredictability and melodic kinkiness anticipating Bartók's third piano concerto (1945). It couldn't be more different from the following adagio, which is a mysteriously captivating offering. Here it's easy to imagine the piano as some disembodied spirit drifting through orchestral mists.
The final allegro draws on another Scottish dance, this time a reel, to end the concerto in a virtuosic Highlands frenzy. The opening is characterized by Bartokian brass outbursts along with fusillades of notes exchanged between soloist and tutti. All this activity gradually subsides into a more reserved lyrical central section. But the adrenaline soon flows again, and the concerto ends with more pianistic volleys and some heavy artillery chords from the orchestra. This piece is definitely not for beginners!
The second piano concerto subtitled "Hindustani" (1949, revised 1953) is the Indian counterpart of the first. It stems from the composer's study of that country's music while he was stationed in South East Asia during the last years of World War II (1939-1945). There are also echoes of his friend Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988, see the newsletter of 25 April 2010).
Each of its three movements is based on a different raga, which defines a set of tones that can be played in a variety of ways, rather than a specific melody (see the informative album notes). The opening movement [track-5] begins with the piano stating a saucy series of notes (SS) indigenous to a raga usually performed in the morning. These are immediately subjected to an agitated, highly chromatic development. There are extended bravura monologues for the soloist interspersed with colorful commentaries from the orchestra, all in keeping with the improvisatory nature of ragas.
About halfway through, the mood relaxes briefly [07:41] with a clarinet solo recalling SS [08:32]. But the pace picks up again, leading to a monumental cadenza for the soloist [11:35 to 14:45] that once more reflects the ad-lib aspect of a raga. The orchestra then joins the piano in the few remaining measures to end the movement uneventfully.
The exotic second is a theme and variations that draws on an evening raga for its halting subject. This is introduced by the soloist, and then the orchestra joins in for the first two variations [00:50 and 01:20]. Both are characterized by accelerating tempos and passages of increased harmonic complexity. The second transitions abruptly into a dreamy third [2:00] with atonally tinged solos for violin, horn and oboe.
It's the exact opposite of the driving fourth variant [04:10], which suddenly gives way to a mysterious fifth [04:52]. This is in essence another elongated cadenza for the piano, again in line with the extemporaneous character of ragas.
The soloist gets a brief break during the penultimate transformation [08:43], which is just for orchestra. It opens with strings bolstered by a bass clarinet, and is highly dramatic, rising and falling into the final seventh variation [09:34]. This is an amorous dialogue between soloist and tutti, ending in an exotic hushed tam-tam dissolve.
The concluding rondo burlesca [track-7] begins with a flighty sequence of notes from the orchestra found in a raga associated with spring. Chisholm cleverly fashions them into a couple of highly syncopated, almost Western sounding themes stated in turn by the piano [00:35] and tutti [01:22]. As the name rondo implies, these come and go throughout the movement, but in raga fashion where they're subjected to thrilling impromptu sounding modifications. The last of these is a bravura blast for everyone, providing a spectacular ending to one of the most inventive piano concertos out there.
Soloist Danny Driver makes a welcome return to these pages (see the newsletter of 18 December 2008), delivering superb performances of both works. Besides being technically demanding, they require great attention to dynamics and rhythmic detail, which present no problem for Driver. His deft sensitive playing along with the magnificent support he receives from Scottish-born conductor Rory Macdonald and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra show off both concertos to best advantage.
Like Driver's earlier recording for Hyperion referenced above, the one here was done in City Halls Concert Hall, Glasgow by the same producer and engineers. However, this time around the microphone setup seems to produce an equally wide but more recessed soundstage in slightly wetter surroundings.
The instrumental timbre is extremely clear, but not quite as easy on the ears as before. The piano is well captured with a percussively rounded tone, but there are some barely audible thumps possibly related to Driver's pedaling. A good balance is maintained between soloist and orchestra throughout this highly interactive music.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120530)
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De Boeck, A.: Pno Conc, Théroigne... Prel, Francesca Ste; Beenhouwer/Venkov/Janá PO [Phaedra]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
In the past we've touted the music of Belgian composer Jef Van Hoof (1886-1959), and here's some by his compatriot, August de Boeck (1865-1937). Both studied with Paul Gilson (1865-1942), and De Boeck is best remembered for his seven operas, some orchestral excerpts from which along with his piano concerto appear here for the first time on disc.
The concert begins with the prelude to his first opera, Théroigne de Méricourt (1900, currently unavailable on disc), which is loosely based on a Belgian-born, French woman of that name (1762-1817), who was a significant figure in the French Revolution (1789-1799). De Boeck's drama is a strife-torn story about her rejection by a nobleman lover, whom she subsequently stabs to death as an enemy of the people. The moving prelude is appropriately restrained setting the stage for this tragedy.
Ever heard of the Hans Piano? It was a two-manual instrument designed by an amateur pianist and engineer named Pierre Hans (1886-1960), which was actually built by the Pleyel Piano Company, but never caught on. Apparently it had a distinctive enough sound to inspire concertos by several composers, including De Boeck, who wrote his in 1926-29. What we have here is a version arranged for conventional piano by our soloist Jozef de Beenbouwer in 1982 (see the informative album notes).
In three immaculately constructed movements, the first moderato [track-2] begins with a graceful falling motif (GF) hinting at the lovely expansive theme (LE) which soon follows [01:17]. A virtuosic development involving both ideas comes next, transitioning directly into a scherzo-presto [track-3] with a perky avian tune (PA) derived from GF. Variants of PA interspersed with the theme itself fill out the movement. Towards the end there's an acronymic cyclical reminder of LE played by the piano [05:23].
The final allegro [track-4] begins with a memorable two-part melody (MT) that's developed and recapped along with hints of LE and GF. The latter form a mysterious bridge into a flashy final coda based on MT that concludes the concerto in a state of jubilation.
The CD is filled out with an orchestral suite from August's penultimate opera Francesca (1913-20), based on Eugène Demolder's (1862-1919) 1899 novel La Route d'émeraude (The Emerald Road). The librettist tells us it's a lyrical comedy in four acts, which are sequentially titled "Roeping" ("Calling"), "Hartstocht" ("Passion"), "Wanhoop" ("Despair"), and "Loutering" ("Catharsis").
Belgian composer Frits Celis (b. 1929) assembled what we have here in 2009 utilizing a couple of sources. Moreover, the first three acts are represented by orchestral selections extracted by Belgian composer-conductor Danïel Sternefeld (1905-1986) for a 1957 concert performance, and the last by a symphonic synthesis of De Boeck’s own making.
Lasting three-quarters of an hour, it’s the most sophisticated music here, and in essence a symphonic poem consisting of four movements. Each of these bears the same title as its corresponding act in the opera.
There's a yearning resolve about "Calling" in keeping with the overwhelming desire of the main protagonist, whose name is Kobus, to become a painter (see the album notes for a plot synopsis). While "Passion" overflows with youthful innocence and ardor, as he experiences love for the first time with a Spanish model named Francesca.
Unfortunately this fickle señorita decides to take up with a Spanish pirate, leaving Kobus in a state of "Despair" limned by the most anguished movement in the suite. But every cloud has a silver lining! And in the concluding "Catharsis," dejection turns to elated reconciliation as he finds himself in church, recalling happy childhood memories.
The movement closes as he returns home where his once alienated father forgives him, and ever-loving mother hums a lullaby she sang to him as a child. All this may sound a little corny even for an opera, but the music is sublime.
Pianist Jozef de Beenhouwer gives us a delicate, beautifully shaded account of the concerto with admirable support from the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO) under Bulgarian conductor Ivo Venkov. The latter go on to deliver highly dramatic but beautifully proportioned accounts of the other two selections. This music is a most welcome addition to the catalog of late romantic recorded repertoire.
Made in the JPO concert Hall, Ostrava (Czech Republic), the recordings project a wide soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. The focus and clarity are exceptional, but to the point where some listeners may find the highs occasionally edgy. The piano tone is percussively rounded, and the instrument well balanced against the orchestra.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120529)
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Foulds, Sainsbury: Vc Concs; Wallfisch/Yates/Bourn SO/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Once again we welcome British composers John Foulds (1880-1939, see the newsletter of 10 March 2011) and Lionel Sainsbury (b. 1958, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010) to these pages with this new release from Dutton featuring world premiere recordings of their cello concertos. Solidly constructed three-movement romantic works, both are thrilling discoveries, and significant additions to the current CD catalog.
The Sainsbury concerto of 1999 begins with an allegro [track-1] having an opening orchestral pedal point followed by the cello stating an Eastern-sounding idea (ES) [00:06] somewhat similar to "The Old Castle" in Mussorgsky's (1839-1881) Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, orchestrated Ravel 1922). A choleric episode where melodic tidbits of ES are tossed about by soloist and tutti follows. Then there's a melancholy lento for strings [02:44], over which the cello plays a sad variant of ES. These contrasting temperaments alternate with one another for the rest of the movement, which ends inconclusively on a diminuendo orchestral chord.
The grief-stricken adagio [track-2] has the cello intoning a lament made all the gloomier by a lachrymose accompaniment. There are a couple of moments where it seems the orchestra wants to rise above all this, but to no avail as the music ends in utter dejection.
In the final allegro [track-3] the orchestra states a blithe radiant theme (BR) [00:34] replete with brass fanfares succeeded by an overcast pensive countersubject (OP) [01:50]. BR then returns in the tutti, and is the subject of a manic virtuosic outburst from the soloist tagged with an orchestral OP afterthought.
But the best is yet to come as the cello breaks into a jolly jig sequence (JJ) [05:44] enthusiastically taken up by other members of the orchestra. OP then returns in a brief episode for soloist and tutti that introduces a cello cadenza recalling several past ideas. These include JJ and BR, which bridge into a totally infectious closing coda taken up with hoedown enthusiasm by all. You'll love it!
Turning to the Foulds, we should note he began playing the cello early in his career, writing three concertos for it between 1906 and 1910. But only the middle one of 1908-09 survived in toto and is presented here. You'll find it a youthful work of neoromantic persuasion full of memorable melodies.
One of these with an endearing Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) patina (TP) is stated by the orchestra at the outset of the opening allegretto [track-4]. That and an arresting squeezebox motif (AS) [01:15] auguring similar passages in Stravinsky's Petrushka (1911, revised 1947) give the movement a Russian flavor.
The cello finally enters playing a hesitant arpeggiated riff (HA) [02:11], which will become a unifying motto throughout the piece, followed by a brief bravura episode. Then the soloist restates TP [03:47] and introduces a rising cheery tune [04:16] succeeded by a bubbly extension of AS [05:45].
A reprise of HA [07:03] heralds a dramatic development with virtuosic displays for the soloist, which include a cadenza. The movement then ends in a short recapitulation of TP followed by a new tranquilized version of it [14:10] that’s worked into a final glowing coda.
The next adagio [track-5] is in ternary form. It opens with a lovely tuneful cantilena (LT) sung by the cello, succeeded by a nostalgic Edwardian march episode (NE) [03:19]. HA [05:39] then announces the return of LT, which brings the movement to a peaceful conclusion.
The concerto closes with a highly romantic sonata-rondo appropriately marked "impetuoso" [track-6]. The main recurring theme (MR) introduced immediately by the soloist with encouragement from the orchestra is a virtuosic romp. A couple of interesting developmental transformations occur between its reappearances, and include a dancelike number [01:22], reserved pensive episode [02:49], and a lovely amorous outpouring [06:33] ending in a timpani roll [08:02].
At this point Foulds includes an ad libitum marking in the score, which our soloist Raphael Wallfisch chooses to observe [08:08]. He comes up with an outstanding cadenza based on MR [08:14] and NE [09:05], which is followed by a muffled drumroll and the return of HA [10:12]. A race to the finish line and an explosive coda end this wonderful concerto in magnificent fashion.
As you've already gathered, our soloist here is Raphael Wallfisch, who plays both works with a technical mastery, attention to detail, and romantic flair that guarantee you a riveting listening experience. Conductor Martin Yates elicits unqualified support from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) for the Sainsbury, as well as the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the case of the Foulds.
Done respectively at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, and Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England, the recordings sound somewhat different. They both project generous soundstages in reverberant acoustics, but the Foulds seems a bit more recessed. The cello is well captured and balanced against the orchestra, particularly in the Sainsbury. The orchestral timbre is generally good with some occasional high frequency flareups that are more pronounced in the Foulds.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120528)
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German, E.: Much Ado..., Tempter, Henry VIII, Romeo &..., 2 Marches; Wilson/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Ever heard of German Edward Jones? Probably not, but that was British composer Edward German's (1862-1936) name before he changed it! He did so while studying at the London Royal Academy of Music to avoid confusion with another student named "Edward Jones."
A prolific composer, the Dutton label began investigating his symphonic output awhile back. Now they give us this invaluable addition with extracts from the substantial body of incidental music he wrote for the theater, plus two marches. Incidentally six of these selections are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The program begins with a five-part suite taken from music he wrote for an 1898 production of Shakespeare's (1564-1616) Much Ado About Nothing (1598-99). The opening "Overture" (WPR) is a spirited frolic with some great tunes in the best "British Light" tradition (see the newsletter of 8 February 2012).
Two arrangements made in the 1930s by English conductor-composer Stanford Robinson (1904-1984) follow, the amorous "In Leonato's Garden" (WPR) and ungainly "Dogberry" (WPR), who was an Elizabethan Keystone Cop. The suite then concludes with a "Bourée" and "Gigue" that are good examples of German's gift for fabricating infectious antiquated dances.
In 1893 he penned music for Henry Arthur Jones' (1851-1929) four-act tragedy The Tempter of the same year. He'd later make a concert suite from it, consisting of the overture (on Dutton-7156), and the two selections here. The lilting "Berceuse" finds German at his most charming, while "Bacchanalian Dance" is as advertised with whirling orgiastic outer sections surrounding a subdued swaying inner one.
Next, a change of pace with the 1890 Marche Solennelle (WPR) [track-8] in a magnificent reconstruction done by Welsh conductor-musicologist David Russell Hulme (b. 1951, see his illuminating album notes on the source material for these recordings). Subtitled “Funeral March in D Minor,” it shows Sir Edward (he was knighted in 1928) could turn out profound music when he so desired.
The tragic opening announced by the brass, gives way to the despondent main march idea (DM) [00:18] succeeded by a nostalgic lyrical melody (NL) [02:03], perhaps recalling happier days. NL is repeated, builds to a climax, and fades, appearing in altered form as a triumphal big tune [04:24]. The music then trails away with DM returning to end the march in a crescendo of sadness and descent into oblivion.
A suite of six selections for the 1892 production of Shakespeare's Henry VIII (1613) is next. Here German successfully resisted pressure from the producer for historically authentic music in favor of his own, which he modeled on folk sources.
The sonata form "Overture" [track-9] begins with a bully headstrong theme (BH) for Henry (1491-1547), followed by a devotional one representing his first queen, Katherine (1485-1536). A brief quote [03:12] from a resplendent coronation march (RC) that appears in the fourth act of the play announces an engaging development and recapitulation. The overture then ends with a spirited recollection of BH.
The "Prelude to Act 2" (WPR), also known as "Intermezzo funèbre," is a dour cue setting the stage for the Duke of Buckingham's execution. There is a brief ray of hope motif [02:26] that recurs, but to no avail as the piece ends tragically.
The succeeding "Prelude to Act 3" couldn't be more different! It's a comely pastoral number built on two fetching ditties. And with a stretch of the imagination, you may find the second [01:12] foreshadows the big tune in the first of Elgar's (1857-1934) Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901-30, see the newsletter of 15 March 2008).
The suite closes with the invigorating "Morris," enthralling "Shepherds'," and swirling "Torch" dances for which German is probably best remembered. According to the album notes, thirty thousand copies of their music sold in the first year alone, and that's to say nothing of the many commercial recordings since then! With German being as little known as he is, these chestnuts fall into that category of old familiar tunes everybody recognizes but can't name or tell you who wrote them.
The mood darkens with the "Dramatic Interlude" (WPR) [track-15] from an 1895 production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet (1591-95). After an agitated portentous opening, a slow solemn march (SS) [00:36] builds and subsides into some gorgeous love music heard earlier in the prelude to the play (on Dutton-7156). But SS suddenly reappears and intensifies, only to fade out forbiddingly in anticipation of the "star-crossed" events soon to follow.
The disc closes with the Coronation March and Hymn [track-16] written in 1911 for the crowning of George V. The march section opens with brass fanfares and flourishes over excited strings. These introduce the principal subject [01:20], which perspicacious listeners will recognize as identical to RC in the Henry VIII "Overture" above [track-9, 03:12]. A restrained melody of benevolence is the main ingredient for the central trio section. Then RC returns in solemn ecclesiastical garb [05:23], ending the piece with a hymn of praise and final "Amen."
Conductor John Wilson and the BBC Concert Orchestra continue their enterprising survey of German's music here with more groundbreaking performances. They play these works with an enthusiasm, attention to dynamic detail, and technical mastery that transform them into much more than ordinary "Pops" fare.
Presumably made at Air Studios' Lyndhurst Hall, Hampstead, London, the recordings create a generous but somewhat distant soundstage in a spacious acoustic. While the orchestral timbre is very musical and well suited to these romantically scored works, it's a bit veiled with occasionally grainy highs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120527)
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Halvorsen: Orch Wks V4 (Norw Rhaps 1 & 2, Norw Fairy..., etc); Soloists/N.Järvi/Bergen PO [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A man of many talents, Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) was a virtuoso violinist, distinguished conductor, and most importantly the foremost Norwegian composer to come along after Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) and Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Accordingly Chandos has undertaken a recorded revival of his orchestral music (see the newsletter of 8 June 2011), and here is the fourth installment in that series. As presented here, four of the eight selections are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.
First up, two Norwegian Rhapsodies from 1919-20 [tracks-1 and 2]. These are folk-based creations like Svendsen's four similarly named works (1876-1877), but structurally more advanced. They follow a tripartite schema with vivacious dance-inspired outer sections flanking slower songful inner ones. The folk tune central to the first rhapsody [track-1, 03:32] is very similar to one Grieg borrowed for "In Folk Style," which is the first of his Two Nordic Melodies (Op. 63; 1869, orchestrated 1895).
Speaking of Grieg, when his publisher wanted an orchestral version of "The Bridal Procession Passes," which is the second of his Three Pictures from Life in the Country (Op. 19, 1970-71), Edvard asked Halvorsen to do it. There were already two other such arrangements by Georg Carl Bohlmann (1838-1920) and Frederick Delius (1862-1934), which date in turn from 1886 and 1889, but Grieg thought only a native composer could capture the rusticity of Norwegian country life without overromanticizing it. He got what he wanted when in 1902 Halvorsen delivered the brilliantly scored, percussion-laced arrangement that's next (OCAR) [track-3].
It's followed by the passacaglia [track-4] from Passacaglia and Sarabande with Variations, which is a duo for violin and viola Halvorsen based on similarly named movements in George Frideric Handel's (1685-1759) seventh harpsichord suite in G minor (HMV 432, published 1720). A virtuosic tour de force, it's in keeping with Halvorsen's reputation as a master violinist. Stylistically speaking, it begins in conservative baroque fashion, but ends up as a Norse romantic showpiece, which would become a favorite of Jascha Heifitz (1901-1987) and William Primrose (1904-1982)!
Like Sir Edward German (1862-1936, see the recommendation above), Halvorsen composed a considerable amount of music for the theater. Some choice selections from it fill out this disc, beginning with a dance scene he wrote in 1904 (OCAR) [track-5] for Knut Hamsun's (1859-1952) play Dronning Tamara (Queen Tamara, 1903).
In the same spirit as Balakirev's (1837-1910) Tamara (1867-82, see the newsletter of 28 October 2008), Halvorsen pulls out all the Eastern stops, describing it as an oriental character piece for orchestra. The album notes tell us Grieg thought it was worth more than the whole play, and one critic subsequently called Johan the Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007) of Norway.
The year 1902 saw a revival of Björnstjerne Björnson's (1832-1910) drama Kongen (The King, 1877) with extensive incidental music by Halvorsen, which included the Symphonic Intermezzo that's next (OCAR) [track-6]. It was a musical substitute for a section of the play which had to be cut, and consequently takes the form of a powerfully dramatic miniature tone poem.
With a mysterious beginning, it's built on a couple of sinuous melodies that undergo a highly chromatic development worthy of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). There are moments of pounding pile driver intensity [02:48, 05:50 and 07:00] recalling Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) scherzos before it comes full circle, ending like it began.
Johan wrote his Norsk Festouverture (Norwegian Festival Overture) [track-7] for the 1899 opening of the National Theater in Kristiania (now Oslo, Norway), where he'd just been appointed conductor of its orchestra. A joyful celebratory sonata form piece, it begins with festive fanfares hinting at the main theme soon to come. This appears in catchy fugato form [01:21] followed by a whimsical second idea [02:31], both of which seem based on Norwegian folk dance rhythms. A festive contrapuntally laced development and glorious recapitulation follow, concluding the overture ecstatically.
The final selection is the five-part suite Norske Eventyrbilleder (Norwegian Fairy Tale Pictures, 1922-23; OCAR) drawn from incidental music he wrote for Adam Hiorth's (1879-1961) children's comedy Peik og Stortroldet (Peik and the Giant Troll, 1922). The composer gave each section a descriptive title, the first being "Peik, the Princess and the Giant Troll" [track-8], which is a jolly musical playbill with the three protagonists represented by capricious violins imitating the hardanger fiddle [00:43], a pulchritudinous flute [01:51], and lumbering double basses [00:17] respectively.
The next "Dance of the Troll Maidens" was apparently removed from the suite prior to publication, but has been reinstated for this recording [track-9]. A slightly tipsy waltz, maybe these mythical damsels had imbibed some linie aquavit before hitting the dance floor! But a sense of decorum returns with "The Princess appears, riding on the Bear" [track-10], which is set to an august ursine melody. Incidentally, the album notes tell us the title refers to a very famous illustration by Theodor Kittelsen (1857-1914) dear to the heart of every “true Norwegian.”
The suite continues with the bizarre, whole-tone "Entry of the Trolls into the Blue Mountain" [track-11], which introduces the final "Dance of the Little Trolls" [track-12]. The latter opens with a rhythmically crazed theme (RC) having xylophonic ossiferous reminders of death, and recalls Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from the first of his two Peer Gynt Suites (1875-92). A gorgeous balladlike central episode with oriental overtones follows, but RC soon returns, ending things in supernatural derangement.
As on the previous CDs in this series conductor Neeme Järvi works that musical magic we've come to expect from him. He elicits superb performances from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), whose members play their hearts out, making a strong case for these undeservedly neglected scores. The BPO’s leader, Swiss violinist Melina Mandozzi, and Latvian violist Ilze Klava deserve a standing ovation for their spectacular fiddling in the demanding passacaglia.
Also made in the Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway by the same producer and engineers responsible for the first three albums, the recordings are once again superb, projecting an ideally proportioned soundstage in a warm acoustic. The high end is brightly transparent, assuring no loss of individual instrumental focus, but at the same time retains its musicality. The bass goes all the way down and is well-defined. Audiophiles won’t be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120526)
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