CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
13 JULY 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.
Andreae: Sym in C (2), Notturno..., Music for Orch, Kleine Ste; Andreae/Bourn SO [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
One of Europe's most highly regarded conductors, who brought Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies to the attention of twentieth century audiences, Swiss-born Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962) was also an accomplished composer. With three widely acclaimed CDs of his chamber music to their credit (see the newsletter of 25 May 2011), Guild now gives us world premiere recordings of four major orchestral works by him. All are significant discoveries from a treasure-trove of late romantic goodies that have been gathering dust far too long.
Andreae wrote two symphonies, and it's the later one in C major dating from 1919 that's featured here. Consisting of the usual four movement, the first allegro [track-1] begins with a somber reflective theme (SR) [00:05]. This undergoes a series of developmental transformations producing several memorable related ideas. A brief final coda that starts with a powerful positive reaffirmation of SR [05:11] but then turns sorrowful ends the movement in quiet grief.
The lento [track-2] opens peacefully with a lovely benign (LB) melody [00:00], only to become increasingly tragic. It turns into an overwhelming funeral march of epic proportions [04:41], making one wonder if this might be a memorial to all the victims of World War I (1914-18), which had just recently ended.
The march slowly subsides into subdued cries and sighs that transition directly into a fleeting scherzo [track-3]. This has delightfully mischievous outer sections surrounding a central rustic dance episode [01:41], which could be of folk origin.
The final allegro [track-4] follows immediately. It opens with heroic references of cinematic proportions to LB [00:00], and triumphal reminiscences of SR as well as its related ideas [0:32]. All these are consummately worked into an optimistic development that ends in a jubilant recapitulation and coda, bringing the symphony to a victorious conclusion.
A bird of a different feather, Notturno and Scherzo of 1918 is impressionistic and headed towards the expressionist world of Franz Schreker (1878-1934). There's an Eastern exoticism about Notturno [track-5] recalling Ravel's (1875-1937) ballet Ma mère l'oye (Mother Goose, 1908-11).
The Scherzo [track-6] is a spirited creation with a Latin dimension, and some airborne passages [02:02] reminiscent of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Don Quixote (1896-97). There are also occasional hints of the preceding section which serve to unify the work.
Coming some ten years later, Music for Orchestra (1929) [track-7] is a brilliantly scored ten-minute piece with all the drama of a tone poem, but no apparent underlying program. It's a sophisticated theme and variations bordering on a chaconne, and opens with hints of the rhythmically angular subject motif that soon follows [00:21].
This undergoes a variety of transformations that are sequentially spooky [00:59], domineering [03:15], sorrowful [04:27], tragic [05:54], and driven [08:10]. The last concludes the work with a final ride into the abyss, ending in a drumroll and final ff chord of damnation.
The annual Carnival of Venice festival, which has been held in that city since the twelfth century, inspired the next piece known as Kleine Suite (Little Suite, 1917). A real charmer it's probably been the composer's most often played orchestral work. There's a lightness of touch along the lines of Victor de Sabata's (1892-1967) 1934 incidental music for Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice), which is recommended below.
Brilliantly scored, the first of its four tiny movements is a gossamer vivace representing the carnival's celebratory atmosphere. The following slower section is a fetching love scene, while the next allegretto takes the form of a march probably related to all those masked characters parading around Piazza San Marco. The antic final vivace is a thrilling representation of the festival's Shrove Tuesday conclusion, and will leave everyone smiling.
Volkmar wrote structurally sophisticated music in which thematic transformation and integration are of paramount importance. Consequently it requires a conductor with a good sense of phrasing and dynamics to bring out all its subtleties. With his grandson Marc Andreae on the podium, it couldn't be in more sympathetic hands! He delivers captivating performances from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra that bring out all the detail in these colorful scores.
Made in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center in Dorset, England, the recordings are clear but cavernous. They project a wide soundstage of considerable depth in a highly reverberant acoustic, which should appeal to those liking wetter sonics. There is an occasional digital edge to some of the ff violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120713)
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Casella, Alf.: Conc for Orch, A notte alta, "Donna..." Sym Frags; Roscoe/Noseda/BBC P [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Up until a few years ago Italian-born, French-educated composer-pianist-conductor Alfredo Casella's (1883-1947) greatest claim to fame in America rested on his being the director of the Boston Pops (1927-29) who preceded Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979). However, that pales in comparison to the significant body of distinguished music he left us, which is nowadays receiving increased attention from record companies.
These include Chandos, which not long ago dipped their toe into his symphonic waters with a stunning release of the second symphony (1908-10) and Scarlattiana (1926, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010). Now they give us an equally desirable follow-on CD with three additional rarely heard orchestral works.
The first selection is the premiere recording of his Concerto for Orchestra, which was written in 1937 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra's founding. It smacks of Paul Hindemith's (1895-1963) pioneering effort of 1925, while anticipating Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) legendary one of five years later (1942-43, revised 1945)
The first of its three movements is entitled "Sinfonia" [track-1], and begins with a frenetic brass-dominated theme (FB) [00:04]. This has all the Gallic sauciness of the opening measures from Jacques Ibert's (1890-1962) Divertissement (1930), which seems in keeping with Alfredo's Parisian training (1896-1900). A lovely lyrical idea for the winds and strings follows, and the two are alternately developed in rondo fashion. The movement then ends with subdued references to FB.
The second one is a passacaglia [track-2] like that in the symphony by Lopes-Graça (1906-1994) we told you about last time (see the newsletter of 20 June 2012). It opens with low strings playing a somber ostinato motif (SO) [00:00] that will fuel the fourteen variations and final coda to come.
The first seven of these build with Gebrauchsmusik precision and virtuosic embellishments from every member of the orchestra to a cataclysmic eighth variation [03:13] with overpowering percussion. This slowly dies away as SO moves into the upper strings, winds and piano for the more relaxed six remaining transformations. SO then reappears in the lower strings for the concluding coda [10:40], which ends the movement as it began.
Titled "Inno" ("Hymn"), the last movement begins like the first with an energetic brass and percussion-accented theme. This is subjected to a development where melodic fragments sounding like something out of a deconstructed hymn tune appear. Brilliant scoring and a neoclassical rhythmic crispness make the music all the more arresting.
Originally a solo piano piece written in 1917 for one of his students, who'd later become his second wife, Casella's 1921 arrangement for piano and orchestra of his A notte alta (In Deepest Night) is next. In five connected sections, the informative album notes tell us it's his only piece of program music. The scenario concerns a nocturnal assignation between an unidentified man and woman somewhat like that underlying Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) Verklärte Nacht sextet of the same year (1917, arranged for string orchestra 1917-43).
A sense of nocturnal angst not far removed from that created by Jerry Goldsmith's (1929-2004) music for Alien (1979) characterizes the opening two sections. The first, a lento [track-4], begins with a Stygian tolling motif (ST) [00:00], after which the piano introduces a somewhat sinister theme (SS) [00:54] representing the male protagonist, and then a more flowery one (MF) [02:18] for the female. The next, an andante [track-5], is brilliantly scored with icy piano passages, chilling harp glissandi, and shivering brass limning some pitch-black frigid wasteland where the two lovers meet.
After a brief pause we get an agitando [track-6] in which brass and low strings build to an explosive amorous episode for soloist and tutti. This dissipates as quickly as it began, after which there's another lento of gloom [track-7] that starts with ST [00:00] followed by more references to SS [00:52] and MF [01:26].
The music then becomes darkly dispassionate with passages for the bass clarinet bridging into the concluding andante [track-8], where there's a disembodied mingling of SS and MF on the piano. This is accompanied by an unresolved dissonant chord for winds and brass, ending this strange creation as mysteriously as it began.
Some may remember Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806) as the Italian playwright whose stage works were the impetus for Prokofiev's (1891-1953) The Love for Three Oranges (1919) and Puccini's (1858-1924) Turandot (completed by Alfano 1926). Well he also wrote the dramatic fable La donna serpente (The Serpent Woman, 1763), which inspired Casella's opera of the same name (1928-31, currently unavailable on disc). Then in 1932 the composer extracted the two suites, or sets as he called them, of symphonic fragments from it that fill out this disc. Incidentally, these are the only currently available recordings of them.
In three conjoined sections, the first suite begins with a lovely dreamy lullaby-like number that segues directly into a prickly interlude reminiscent of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) antsier moments. It's followed immediately by a march of conquest that towards its end owes something to Elgar's (1857-1934) ceremonious quicksteps.
Also in three sections, but with brief pauses between them, the second suite begins with the opera's overture. This is a brilliantly scored sinfonia with a thrilling, high-strung opening and closing surrounding a couple of restrained melodically captivating passages.
It's followed by the prelude to the third and final act, which begins quietly, builds to a tremendous tragic drum-pounding climax, and then quietly dissipates like an early morning mist. The suite then ends with some stirring percussion-laced battle music and a final triumphal march, both of which presage the bellicose moments in William Walton's (1902-1983) film scores.
As on their first Casella release for Chandos (see above) conductor Gianandrea Noseda and the BBC Philharmonic give us electrifying performances of everything. They're again joined by pianist Martin Roscoe for A notte alta, where he proves himself a worthy advocate of this offbeat score.
While Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester was the venue for their previous Casella recording, this one was done with basically the same production staff but at the BBC's new MediaCityUK facility along the old Salford Dock area of the city. The recordings remain superb despite the change of location, and if anything project a somewhat more tightly focused soundstage in what seems like a slightly drier acoustic.
The instrumental timbre is convincingly musical over the considerably wide-ranging dynamics unleashed by these scores. The piano tone is well-rounded, and the balance between soloist and orchestra just right. Late romantic audiophiles won't want to be without this disc!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120712)
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De Sabata: Mercante di Venezia (cpte inc music); Ceccato/Málaga C&PO [La Bottega]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Italian-born Victor de Sabata (1892-1967) is best remembered as one of the twentieth century's finest conductors. But he was also an accomplished composer as CD audiences discovered over ten years ago when Hyperion gave us some of his orchestral music. Now his time has come again with this enterprising world premiere recording from the La Bottega Discantica label. It features the complete incidental music he wrote for Max Reinhardt's (1873-1943) 1934 Venice production of Il mercante di Venezia (The Merchant of Venice, 1596-98).
All the notes are in Italian except for a scanty English plot synopsis, so we'll do our best to fill you in on the stage action associated with each of the fifteen numbers included here. The first [track-1] establishes the scene for the one and only open-air set used throughout the play. It begins with sighing sea and wind sounds (wind machine?), and a lovely diaphanous ode to Venice (LD) [00:08] sung by an a cappella female chorus (see the album notes for the Italian text).
The orchestra then enters softly and builds with brass fanfares and eventually full choral accompaniment to a short climax. This falls away to the tolling of church bells and subdued string passages that end with reminiscences of the opening measures bridging directly into the next number.
This is a cheery diminutive street carnival scene [track-2] with mandolin as well as guitar solos, whereas the next one [track-3] has alternately sad and mirthful passages. These reflect Jessica's suffering under her domineering father Shylock as opposed to a party underway at the adjoining residence of the rich and beautiful Portia. Some delightful passages for solo harpsichord add an endearing antiquated feeling to the music.
Brass and arresting percussive effects announce the arrival of the King of Morocco [track-4], who is seeking Portia's hand. But it's not to be, and her tipsy guests continue their merrymaking [track-5]. Shylock then appears, and is ridiculed by the revelers with laughter and party noisemakers [track-6]. The orchestra soon joins in with jeering brass and snickering string passages.
These introduce a charming percussively accented dance sequence with attractive harp and wind solos. It may remind you of Respighi's (1879-1936) three suites of Ancient Airs and Dances (1817-1932), and is followed by a cheeky fife and drum march (CFD) [02:56]. There's also a rowdy clamorous chorus (RC) [03:29] set to a melody bearing a strange resemblance to the American folk song "I've Been Working on the Railroad," after which CFD reappears and the party abates.
But the revelers soon return, again making fun of Shylock [track-7], who's now in a state of shock over the loss of his daughter Jessica, who's just eloped with Lorenzo. A merry dance episode for full orchestra and chorus follows as the festivities continue with more references to RC, after which everyone exits to CFD.
Wind sounds, bells, soft strings, and a sad madrigal of de Sabata's own making are next [track-8], announcing the arrival of Portia's next suitor, the Prince of Arragon (Aragon). He also fails to secure her hand, and is followed by Portia's real love, the young Bassanio, who succeeds! The following gorgeous garden scene between husband and wife to be [track-9], is magic with an enchanting part for the celesta.
However, all is not well for Bassanio's friend Antonio [track10], who borrowed money from Shylock to subsidize Bassanio's courtship of Portia. Namely, reports that Antonio's merchant ships have been lost at sea may mean he'll have to pay Shylock that infamous "pound of flesh." All this is reflected in the next troubled percussion-laced number where martial, brass-adorned orchestral fanfares announce the arrival of the Duke of Venice [track-11], who'll decide Antonio's fate.
Enter Portia and her maid disguised as legal officials who cleverly save Antonio from Shylock's carving board. Winsome, delicately scored love scenes between Portia and Bassanio [track-12], as well as Lorenzo and Jessica [track-13] follow. An exotic Eastern-sounding Venetian night number that's at times gamelan-like follows [track-14]. Then the production ends [track-15] with sublime hints of LD, making this some of the most refined and sophisticated incidental music to come out of the late romantic period.
Our conductor, Italian-born Aldo Ceccato (b. 1934), studied under de Sabata and is married to his daughter. Consequently the sensitive delicate performance of this score he gets from the Málaga Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra could be considered a labor of love. In any case it's hard to imagine the music better sung and played!
Made four years ago at an unidentified location in Málaga, the recording is crystal clear. It presents an ideally proportioned soundstage in a fairly live venue that adds all the more to the romantic ambience of the music. The balance between the chorus, soloists and orchestra is excellent. The voice quality and instrumental timbre are musical with only an occasional grainy spot in the upper midrange.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120711)
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Franck. Ed.: "Roman..." Ov, Constk (vn), Orch Fant, Concert Ov; Edinger/Rudner/ReutWürt P [Audite]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Born into a wealthy cultivated German family, Eduard Franck (1817-1893) showed musical talent at an early age, and would study privately with Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1857). He'd go on to become a highly regarded concert pianist and teacher, as well as write a substantial body of distinguished music that's only now receiving the acclaim it deserves. Interestingly enough, during his lifetime this oversight was due in large part to his own perfectionism, which made him hesitant to get his works published.
With this release Audite continues their ongoing survey of his oeuvre (see the newsletter of 28 February 2012), giving us premiere recordings of four orchestral scores. The first is Der römische Carneval Overtüre (The Roman Carnival Overture, 1854), which is a far cry from Berlioz's (1803-1869) hyper creation of ten years earlier (1844).
Eduard's is a conventional piece with colorful brass fanfares, delightful melodies, and a refinement like that found in the music of his mentor Mendelssohn. There are also spots that may bring the overtures of Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) and Franz von Suppé (1819-1895) to mind.
The next piece, his Konzertstück für Violine und Orchester (Concertstück for Violin and orchestra, 1844), is a significant discovery. In two movements of the same length it opens with a pensive andante where the violin spins out a lovely relaxed melody (LR) that's the subject of an attractive developmental discourse between soloist and tutti. An animated allegro follows [07:12] based on a catchy angular theme (CA) distantly related to LR. Franck then treats CA and LR in rondo fashion with some bravura flourishes. All this presages the violin concertos of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) as well as Josef Joachim (1831-1907).
And now for the resident magnum opus, Eduard's Fantasie für Orchester (Fantasy for Orchestra, c. 1850), which could be considered a symphony in three movements. The first one [track-3] is in essence a sonata-rondo whose first few measures (FF) [00:01] resemble the march of the priests opening the second act of Mozart's (1756-1791) The Magic Flute (1791, see the newsletter of 29 October 2010).
A cheerful upbeat countermelody (CU) follows [00:20], and is briefly developed. Then another more subdued idea (MS) is introduced [02:09], after which CU and MS undergo a series of variational developments juxtaposed with restatements of both. The movement ends with sad memories of CU [09:10] and a flashback to FF [11:24].
The charming minuet that's next [track-4] has playful opening and closing sections. They sport some of those amusing Mendelssohn Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42) heehaws [00:07, 00:23 and 05:20], and surround a more lyrically profound central trio episode.
The final allegro [track-5] begins with references to FF [00:01] and CU [01:14], which are worked into new energetic thematic material of Mendelssohnian persuasion. A consummate development follows, and then a recapitulation made all the more thrilling by the composer's use of contrasting piano and forte passages. A final coda based on CU [07:51] ends the symphony on a surprisingly quiet note.
The closing selection is Franck's Concert Overture [track-6] of 1848, which is by far the most conservative piece here. It opens with a quiet adagio that's an introspective blend of Schumann (1810-1856) and Liszt (1811-1886) built on a reserved two-part theme (RT) [00:01]. A presto soon follows with a vivacious RT-related tune (RV) [02:40] that's skillfully developed. Both ideas then reappear in slightly modified form, and the overture ends with a big tune recap of RT [07:19] succeeded by a final jubilant tip of the hat to RV.
The Württemberg Philharmonic (WP) located in Reutlingen, Germany is featured here under its chief conductor Swedish-born Ola Rudner. They give a good accounting of themselves making a strong case for these unjustly neglected scores. The same can be said of violinist Christiane Edinger in the concertstück. She plays it with an enthusiasm and sensitivity that turn what in lesser hands might be ordinary fare, into an exceptional listening experience. Accordingly many may find it the high point of this disc.
Made in the WP studio, Reutlingen, the recordings are clear, projecting a detailed soundstage in a slightly cavernous acoustic. The instrumental timbre is musical but bright, while the violin in the concertstück comes across as lifelike and well balanced against the orchestra. There are a couple of momentary low frequency disturbances probably occasioned by outside transportation.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P1207DD)
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Hailstork: Sym 1, 3 Spirtuals, American..., Whitman's..., etc; Deas/Falletta/Virg SC&O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A student of Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979, see the newsletter of 22 November 2010) and Vittorio Giannini (1903-1966, see the newsletter of 20 June 2012) among others, American composer Adolphus Hailstork (b. 1941) makes a welcome return to these pages (see the newsletter of 17 February 2007) with this recent release. Previously you'd have to buy several full-priced CDs to get the five choice selections offered here, but now Naxos gives us all of them on a single bargain-priced one.
The concert begins with the first of Adolphus' three symphonies dating from 1988. It's in the standard four movements, scored for an orchestra like that typically found in a Haydn (1732-1809) or Mozart (1756-1791) symphony, and in some respects his equivalent of Prokofiev's (1891-1953) Classical Symphony (No. 1, 1916-17). There's a kinky rhythmic irreverence about the opening allegro that's quite ear-catching, and may at times remind you of Poulenc's (1899-1963) Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani (1938).
The next adagio is a wistful string-woodwind-dominated pastoral offering at times recalling Howard Hanson's (1896-1981) Romantic Symphony (No. 2, 1930). It couldn't be more different from the faunal scherzo, which is easy to imagine as Hailstork's answer to Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) Carnival of the Animals (1886). Pursuant to that analogy, it gets off to a scurrying start with a twitchy-whiskered mouse (strings), followed by a dyspeptic duck (oboe), agitated canary (flute), lurking wolf (horns, trumpets and lower strings) and an oafish bear (bassoon and clarinet).
There's something of Leonard Bernstein's (1918-1990) Symphonic Dances from West Side Story (1960) in the jazzy finale. It's a clever compact presto where all the important previous motifs come home to roost.
The next selection, Three Spirituals, is an orchestral arrangement the composer made in 2005 of some earlier organ pieces (no date given). The first "Every time I feel the Spirit" is a festive lively opener capturing all the exuberance of the original tune. The following "Kum Ba Yuh" is a mournful deeply religious offering looking forward to happier days. These would seem to be reflected in the concluding "Oh Freedom," which ends the piece with an upbeat Gershwin (1898-1937) "I Got Rhythm" (1930) feeling.
The concert overture An American Port of Call (1985) [track-8] was inspired by the composer's hometown of Norfolk, Virginia. It opens with what might best be described as a Woody Woodpecker theme (WW) [00:02] that's the subject of a brilliantly scored bustling development conjuring up images of stevedores and cranes working the city's busy docks.
It's made all the more colorful by the jazzy strains of a muted trumpet, percussive pops on a wooden block, and bluesy Gershwinesque clarinet (see the newsletter of 31 March 2011). A winsome lyrical section (WL) derived from WW follows [02:44], providing a peaceful interlude after which the music resumes its hectic pace. WL then makes a brief reappearance [05:39], and the overture closes on the waterfront just as it began.
Hailstork's Fanfare on Amazing Grace (2003) comes next, and is a rousing arrangement of that timeless hymn tune (AG). It opens with timpani-accented brass fanfares over a pedal point held by the rest of the orchestra. The former are repeated throughout as AG makes its appearance in the strings [01:18], and builds to a commanding climax, ending the piece in triumph.
The program concludes with Whitman's Journey: Launch Out on Endless Seas (2005) for baritone, chorus and orchestra [track-10]. Based on texts (see the album notes) from early poems found in Walt Whitman's (1819-1892) Leaves of Grass (1855-91), it entreats mankind to join the poet as he sets sail on the seas of life's great journey.
The cinematic orchestral introduction inspires thoughts of imposing oceans, and gives way to an exhortation delivered by chorus [02:09] and baritone [06:43] with the words "Take ship, O Soul!" Perspicacious Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) fans will recognize lines that also appear in "The Explorers" finale of his Sea Symphony (1903-09, revised 1923).
The piece ends with an arresting syncopated, percussively spiked "Jubilant song" [14:34] set to a particularly expansive Whitman poem. With orchestral moments that are a cross between Walton's (1902-1983) Belshazzar's Feast (1930-31, revised 1938 and 1957) and Bernstein's On the Town (1944), it concludes this flowery cantata in a state of hyperbolic ecstasy.
the Virginia Symphony Orchestra under their music director JoAnn Falletta give splendid performances of the four orchestral works here. They're joined by the superb Virginia Chorus and baritone Kevin Deas, who's in fine voice, for an equally commendable account of the Whitman.... What's more, these live recordings done at the Wilder Performing Arts Center, Norfolk State University, Virginia, capture a sense of spontaneity and excitement often missing in the studio!
When it comes to concert recordings, audio engineers frequently employ close directional miking to minimize background noise, which inevitably leads to unnatural in-your-face sonics. Fortunately that's been avoided here probably with appropriate touch-up sessions and skillful editing. The soundstage projected is accordingly well proportioned and oriented in an inviting venue. Also the audience is as quiet as a mouse with no hint of tussis or applause.
The instrumental timbre is quite musical except for a sprinkling of upper digital grain, particularly in massed vocal passages. The balance between soloist, chorus and orchestra is beyond reproach. Taking all this into account, these live recordings are very good and close to audiophile grade.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120709)
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Martinu: Hpd Conc, Chbr Music 1, Rondes, Revue... (cpte bal); Hill/Simon/Holst-Sinfta [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Written between 1927 and 1959, the works for chamber orchestra by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959) on this new Naxos release show four main influences. These are the folk music of his native country, the impressionism and neoclassicism of composers he associated with during his years in Paris (1923-1940), and finally jazz, which became the rage in Europe during the 1920s and 30s.
The first selection is the Concerto for Harpsichord and Small Orchestra of 1935, which follows in the footsteps of Francis Poulenc's (1899-1963) Concerto champêtre (1927-28) and foreshadows Frank Martin's (1890-1974) Petite symphonie concertante (1945). In three movements the opening allegro [track-1] begins with a wiry neoclassical (WN) theme [00:01] in the orchestra that includes a piano for a little extra percussive color.
The harpsichord picks up on WN, and a brief development ensues with those marvelous rocking Martinu modulations [01:07]. Next the soloist introduces a more rhapsodic idea [02:22] which becomes the subject of a chromatic game of catch between harpsichord and orchestra. WN is then recapped [04:11], and after a brief cadenza, the movement ends like it started.
The adagio commences with ornate Baroque-like passages for the soloist. It then takes on the aspect of a love song with some winsome passages for flute and piano, only to close by chasing its own tail in Vivaldi (1678-1741) fashion.
The concluding allegretto is a thrilling virtuosic showpiece for the harpsichord, that's urged on to bigger and better things by the piano. Full of that kinetic energy characterizing Martinu's music, it ends the concerto on a real high.
Written the year he died, Chamber Music No. 1 (1959), also known as Les Fêtes nocturnes (Night Festivals), is scored for clarinet, harp, piano and string trio. In three sections, impressionistic influences are rife bringing to mind Debussy's (1862-1918) Nocturnes (1900) and Danse sacrée et danse profane (Sacred and Profane Danses, 1904).
The first allegretto [track-4] has those buzzing insectile riffs [00:34 and 00:48] that are a trademark of this composer. The andante [track-5] could be the musical representation of a Cézanne (1839-1906) landscape with hints of the cuckoo [01:48] in Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) Carnival of the Animals (1886). The whimsical final allegro [track-6] alludes to one of those captivating Czech melodies [01:56] that make Martinu so instantly recognizable.
And speaking of folk music, the next piece from 1930 was originally titled Moravian Dances, but later renamed Les rondes (Rounds). Possibly inspired by Janácek's (1854-1928) Lachian Dances (1925), French and jazz influences are also to be found in this six-part suite.
Scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano and two violins, there's a twitchy neoclassical sparseness about the animated opening suggestive of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) L'Histoire du soldat (1920). The three dances that follow are an Eastern European slow-step, fidgety Charlestown (see the newsletter of 31 March 2011), and a furtive waltz. The work then ends with a sad saraband, and a hectic hora.
The disc closes with the rarely heard complete version of the jazz ballet La revue de cuisine (The Kitchen Revue, 1927) scored for clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, piano, violin and cello. Recently reconstructed by Martinu authority, conductor Christopher Hogwood (b. 1941, see the newsletter of see the newsletter of 15 May 2008) there are six additional numbers besides the four in the commonly performed suite.
With a culinary scenario where the dancers are a pot, lid, whisk, dishcloth, and broom (see the album notes), it will appeal to those liking 1920s and 30s popular music. Highlights include a sprightly folk-song-spiked "pas de pot and whisk" [track-15], as well as an amorous tango [track-17] presaging Ravel's (1875-1937) Boléro (1928).
There's also a duel between the broom and dishcloth that turns into an infectious Charleston [track-18]. This is followed by a droll funeral march [track-20] with what sounds like a reference [02:07] to the fate motif at the beginning of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) fourth symphony (1877)? The ballet ends with a couple of joyful ensemble numbers [track-21 and 22] recalling all the major ingredients -- Julia Child (1912-2004) would have loved it!
American harpsichordist Robert Hill plays the concerto to perfection, receiving splendid support from the Holst-Sinfonietta (H-S) of Freiburg, Germany under its founder and conductor Klaus Simon. The H-S musicians are each virtuosos in their own right, and give sparkling accounts of the other selections. Herr Simon wears two hats in Les rondes where he's also the pianist. There are other recordings of these pieces, but superb performances and a bargain price put this disc at the top of the list.
A co-production with Southwest German Radio, this was made in their Freiburg Schlossbergsaal studio. The recordings project suitably proportioned soundstages in a neutral acoustic. The instrumental timbre is pleasing with sparkling highs, but there are some occasional low end action murmurs from the harpsichord. The spacing and balance between the soloists seems well-judged for each of the different ensembles present.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120708)
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