CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
27 AUGUST 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.
Bainton: Va Son (w Bantock, Bowen, Holland); Bradley/Wilson [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
It was legendary British violist Lionel Tertis (1876-1975) who inspired such great composers as Béla Bartók (1881-1945), Bohuslav Martinu (1890-1959, see the newsletter of 15 May 2008), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009) and William Walton (1902-1983) to write some of the twentieth century's finest symphonic works for his instrument.
The same can be said about a substantial number of chamber pieces, some of which for viola and piano by British composers are sampled on this engaging recent Naxos release. Incidentally, two of the four works presented here are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The concert begins with Edgar Bainton's (1880-1956, see the newsletter of 23 February 2011) three-movement sonata of 1922 (WPR). A rather dour work it may reflect emotional fallout from the composer's experiences as a prisoner-of-war in Germany during World War I (1914-1918).
In the opening allegro [track-1] the viola first introduces a couple of contrasting melodies [00:04 and 01:37], followed by a sinuously restful (SR) idea [02:04]. These become the ingredients for an engaging modified sonata form movement.
The mood brightens a bit in the allegretto [track-2], which starts with a folkish-sounding theme for the viola [00:00]. The piano then introduces an animated version of it [00:47], and the two then alternate, giving us a combination slow-movement and scherzo.
A sense of foreboding pervades the opening of the finale [track-3], which begins with an insistent militaristic episode (IM) [00:00] having suggestions of SR [01:12]. This is followed by scurrying passages [02:25] that build to a triumphant IM-derived four-note motif (IF) [03:37]. The latter is restated several times and then the music pauses [04:30]. Subdued memories of IM follow, and the opening pattern repeats with a final IF-based coda [07:21] ending the sonata optimistically.
A real sleeper, you'll find little known British composer Theodore Holland's (1878-1947) Suite for Viola and Piano (1938) a welcome discovery. The first allegro [track-4] opens with an anxious idea [00:00] followed by a subdued pensive theme [00:38], both of which undergo a dramatic development. The following recap [04:03] initially captures the indifference of the opening measures, but ends elatedly.
The slow movement [track-5] is a romance with a couple of melodies exploiting the viola's amorous lower registers -- shades of James Friskin's (1886-1967) Elegy (1912, see the newsletter of 31 July 2012). It couldn't be farther from the virtuosic driven finale [track-6], which begins and ends with demonic passages for the viola bringing to mind the devil and his fabled fiddle. The subdued central section [01:28-02:33] seems to harbor hints of the Dies Irae [01:35], which adds all the more diabolism to this rarity.
A good friend of Lionel Tertis (see above), York Bowen (1884-1961) arranged (see the newsletter of 30 May 2008) and composed many pieces for viola. We get a sample of the latter next with his Piece for Viola (WPR) [track7] written in 1960 just before his death. There's a piety and resignation about this miniature that make it an ideal musical gravestone for a British composer deserving much wider exposure (see the newsletter of 7 October 2011).
The disc concludes with what will be the main attraction for many, Sir Granville Bantock's (1868-1946) romantically robust 1919 sonata entitled "Colleen." A big-boned three-movement work, the opening allegro [track-8] starts with a jagged four-note riff (JF) [00:04] reminiscent of a motif associated with the Marschallin heard at the outset of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Der Rosenkavalier (1911). It's the seed for a series of lush thematic developmental transformations that make up this fetching movement.
The maestoso that follows [track-9] begins with a somber melody whose first few notes recall JF. This is expanded into a nostalgic lament with a brief sequence again recalling the Dies Irae [02:49] (see the Holland above). Despite isolated moments when it seems optimism might prevail, the movement ends longingly, and would probably be even more affecting had it been a couple of minutes shorter.
The final Vivace [track-10] is a real change of pace that begins with an Irish jig known as "Helvic Head." This has a wistfulness perfectly suited to the viola [00:07], and is followed by the lovely distantly related Gaelic melody [02:36] "Colleen Dhas," for which the sonata is named. Bantock works the two into a delightful Hibernian hoedown laced with hints of JF, concluding the piece in high spirits.
Violist Sarah-Jane Bradley and pianist Christian Wilson give inspired performances that are not only technically accomplished but highly sensitive without becoming romantic wallows. Ms. Bradley's intonation is exceptionally pure with no hint of that queasiness frequently experienced with lesser violists.
The recordings, which were made in Henry Wood Hall, London, are audiophile and project an ideally proportioned soundstage in a warm acoustic. The duo is positioned just far enough forward to give clear sonic images of both instruments without being in-your-face. Ms. Bradley's viola is beautifully burnished, and Mr. Wilson's piano tone well-rounded with no sign of digital artifacts.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120827)
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Boëllmann: Pno Trio, Pno Qt, 2 Pcs (vc & pno), 2 Trios (pno trio); Parnas Trio [MD&G]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
The early demise of French organist-composer Léon Boëllmann (1862-1897) like that of António Fragoso (1897-1918), whom we told you about last time (see the newsletter of 31 July 2012), deprived the world of an extremely promising musician. He was only thirty-five when he died, probably from tuberculosis, in the same year Fragoso was born.
Although he's best remembered for his organ works, which include the ever-popular Suite gothique (1895), he also wrote several elegant chamber pieces as António would also do. A couple of Léon’s best appear on this new disc from MD&G, and listening to them one can't help feeling had he lived a full life he might have produced music comparable to that of such French romantic greats as Widor (1844-1937, see the newsletter of 6 January 2012), Fauré (1845-1924), d’Indy (1851-1931, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011) and Chausson (1855-1899). So it's a pleasure to welcome him to these pages, particularly with a release where all the selections except for a short piece for cello and piano are the only performances currently available on CD.
The program opens with the piano trio of 1895. In four movements, the first two are a contiguous introductory sonata form allegro and andante. The former [track-1] is a charmer with an auburn lyrical opening section hinting at the youthful skipping theme (YS) that follows [01:02]. This is briefly explored, and then we get a winsome undulating tune (WU) [01:59], which like YS smacks of Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). So does the immaculate subsequent development that segues via a brief recapitulation right into the next movement.
This is a lament [track-2] that begins with a languorous despairing melody (LD) sung by the cello [00:01], and picked up by the violin to a subdued piano accompaniment. Made all the more melancholy by some sobbing imitation and chromatic sighs, the world of Fauré is not far away.
The mood brightens in the last two movements, the first of which is a scherzo [track-3]. This alternates a galloping idea [00:00] with an attractive yearning melody [00:54] to great effect. It serves as a warm up for the final allegro [track-4], which starts even more energetically.
Structurally similar to the opening introduction, this begins with a whirlwind theme (WW) [00:07] succeeded by an amorous rhapsodic one (AR) [00:51] distantly related to WU. An inspired pizzicato-spiced development is next, and then passages for the strings dramatically recalling LD [05:33]. These bridge into a thrilling recapitulation [07:06] where WW and AR reappear with the latter [07:51] blossoming into a joyful final coda.
The year 1890 saw Boëllmann complete the four-movement piano quartet that's next. The opening allegro [track-5] initially states three themes that are sequentially apprehensive (AP) [00:04], flighty [01:02] and rapturous [02:28]. The composer juggles them in an adept development worthy of César Franck (1822-1890), and then the movement ends anxiously in a increasingly agitated coda [07:28] recalling AP.
The following scherzo [track-6] juxtaposes an infectious fidgety idea in the strings [00:01] with a flowing melody for them underscored by piano arpeggios [01:42]. The movement ends as quickly as it began, and is a diversionary trifle compared to the beautiful andante [track-7]. Here the strings rhapsodize on a dark melody that's one of the composer's most elegant.
The finale [track-8] opens with a nervous theme [00:00] that undergoes an ear-catching modulatory sequence [00:27]. It's followed by a killer melody [00:55] in the same ballpark as the big tune from the last movement of Brahms' (1833-1897) first symphony (1855-76). The two ideas then chase each other in game of rondo tag, and the quartet ends uneventfully with memories of both.
The two short concluding selections, which were written just before Boëllmann died, make ideal encore material. The first, Two Pieces for Cello and Piano (1896), is an original work consisting of a winsome "Valse Lente" (“Slow Waltz”) [track-9], and a balletic "Minuet-Allegro" [track-10]. The opener is an engaging leisurely rustic dance that’s followed by a refined ballroom number. If these appeal to you, by all means investigate the composer’s cello sonata (c. 1896-7).
The final offering, Two Trios for Piano, Violin and Cello (1896), is an arrangement. It's drawn from the composer's two sets of some one hundred miniatures for harmonium or organ known as Heures mystiques (Mystical Hours, 1896).
Marked "Andante," the first trio [track-11] has a grieving violin and cello over a wavelike piano accompaniment. The second is a "Largo" [track-12] with a flowing melody for the strings and halting piano chords, bringing to mind the "Air" from Bach's (1685-1750) third orchestral suite (c. 1729-1731). It ends this disc of discovery on a wistful note in keeping with the untimely loss of such a potentially great composer.
The performances by the Parnassus Trio with an assist from violist Gérard Caussé in the quartet are good. However, there are a couple of spots in the first two pieces where the intonation in the upper strings seems slippery. On the other hand, special credit should go to pianist Chia Chou for his superb playing. He's the perfect accompanist providing sensitive support in ensemble passages, while rising to bravura heights in the more animated solo ones.
Made at the Abbey in Marienmünster, Germany, the recordings are good and project a conservative soundstage in a warm acoustic. The strings are natural sounding, while the piano tone is well rounded to the point where one might wish it had been a little more closely miked to better highlight Mr. Chou's exceptional playing.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120826)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Lalo: Conc Russe, etc (vn & orch); Pno Conc; Kantorow/Volondat/Bakels/Tapi Sinfta [BIS (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
French romantic composer Édouard Lalo's (1823-1892) creative period came in two spurts with a gap of almost fifteen years in between. The first (c. 1848-59) is represented for the most part by chamber music, While the second (c. 1872-89) finds a dominance of orchestral works, a few of which have kept his name alive.
During the later time frame he wrote several violin concertante pieces, some of which were for his good friend Spanish virtuoso Pablo de Sarasate (1844-1908). Three of these, which included the ever popular Symphonie espagnole (1873), appeared a couple of years ago on a highly acclaimed BIS CD. And now they give us the remaining ones plus his piano concerto, which was his last major work. Being a hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release this has the added advantage of superior sound.
The program begins with the Concerto russe for violin and orchestra of 1879. Atypically it's in four movements, the second and fourth each having separate wedding tunes Lalo borrowed from Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908, see the newsletter of 30 August 2007) One Hundred Russian Folk Songs (1875-6, currently unavailable on disc) -- and so the title!
The opening movement marked "Prelude" [track-1] starts with somber orchestral passages succeeded by a sad languid melody (SL) [00:44] for the soloist that becomes the subject of a dialogue with the orchestra. There are virtuosic touches for the violin, which then introduces a fiery syncopated (FS) theme [04:08] followed by a more lyrical countersubject (ML) [04:26].
After a few energetic manipulations of ML, we get an extended romantic idea (ER) [05:59] followed by another development that's bravura-driven, and sees the return of FS [08:08], ML [08:27] and ER [09:41]. The movement closes with more fancy fiddling and scraps of FS [11:25 and 12:19] in addition to ML [11:54].
The next one, marked "Chants russes" (Russian Songs) [track-2] begins with a four-note phrase (FN) [00:02] recalling the opening of "God Save the Tsar!", which was the Imperial Anthem of the Russian Empire from 1833 through 1917. The soloist then enters [00:34] fleshing out FN and eventually transforming it into another lovely melody from that Rimsky folk collection mentioned above. This ends the movement with some Russian soul.
The following "Intermezzo" [track-3] begins with a syncopated five-note riff (FN) [00:02] reminiscent of the scherzando in the Symphonie espagnole (see above). The violin soon appears playing a perky virtuosic idea (PV) [00:13] accented with FN's last note, and then gives us a winsome lyric tune (WL) [01:30]. Lalo plays a game of developmental leapfrog with PV and WL, and ends the movement on a more Hispanic than Slavic-sounding high.
The finale [track-4] starts with dark threatening orchestral passages [00:02] and a worried variant of SL (WV) [00:54] on the violin, which introduce another "Chants russes" (Russian Songs) [03:02] section. Here soloist and tutti launch into a vivacious antsy ditty (VA) [03:12] also derived from one of those Rimsky tunes mentioned above. Both VA and WV are treated in rondo fashion with the concerto ending on a commanding minor chord.
Three shorter selections for violin and orchestra are next, beginning with the Romance-Sérénade of 1877 [track-5]. This sunny pastoral offering gives the violinist ample opportunity to show off his skills with flighty runs and some stratospheric high notes.
Dedicated to Sarasate (see above), the Fantaisie-ballet (1885) [track-6] is one of several spin-offs the composer realized from his balletic masterpiece Namouna (1881-2), which even to this day has not gained the acceptance it so rightly deserves! Lalo has reworked a couple of its dances, infusing them with some fiddle fireworks that turn it into a ten-minute violin show-stopper.
Guitare [track-7] originally appeared as an occasional piece for violin and piano in 1880. Then some years after the composer’s death, Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937, see the newsletter of 28 March 2007) expanded the piano accompaniment for orchestra, giving us the version included here. The name derives from Lalo's use of pizzicato passages to imitate the strumming of a guitar, and in the process he endows the piece with that Latin touch so frequently found in his music.
Many will consider the final selection, his piano concerto written in the sunset of his life (1888), the pièce de résistance on this disc. Surprisingly devoid of virtuoso effects, it adheres to the usual three movements with the first [track-8] getting off to a brooding orchestral start. The piano then introduces a lithe appealing melody (LA) [01:07] that may come as a big surprise to those not familiar with this work. To wit, it begins astonishingly like Maurice Jarre's (1924-2009) title tune for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) written almost seventy-five years later!
Another surprise follows immediately in the form of a bold heroic theme (BH) [03:19], whose opening resembles the second phrase of that Russian anthem we told you about above. Both ideas are exploited to the fullest in what must be one of the composer's most inventive movements. More specifically it begins in sonata form, and then shifts into rondo overdrive with fragments of LA and BH frequently returning. In the end LA assumes big tune status, finishing the movement in a blaze of glory.
The lento [track-9] is a heartfelt meditation where LA reappears a couple of times [02:14, 03:08 and 05:24]. The movement provides a brief respite before the energetic final allegro, where the piano introduces an aggressive grasping theme [00:11] with an ecstatic LA-derived countersubject [00:58]. The two ideas undergo some exciting transformations followed by a last bow for LA [05:07], and a knuckle-busting coda that ends the concerto in thrilling fashion.
The first four selections feature violinist Jean-Jacques Kantorow playing his 1699 Stradivarius, and what a pleasure it is to hear him again! Magnificent tone and an awesome technique, which he never uses for show but only to serve the music, characterize his performances.
A big round of applause is also due pianist Pierre-Alain Volondat for his captivating rendition of the concluding concerto. His playing brings out all the melodic and rhythmic eccentricities that give Lalo's later works a sound all of their own.
Both soloists receive outstanding support from the Tapiola Sinfonietta (TS) under conductor Kees Bakels, making each of these selections preferable to the few other versions currently available. Not only that but you get two rare French romantic concertos on the same disc.
Made in the classically rectangular-shaped Tapiola Concert Hall, Finland, the recordings project a soundstage perfectly suited to the diminutive but elegant TS. The soloists are ideally placed and balanced against it in this translucent acoustic.
Neumann microphones were used throughout, yielding an exceptionally musical orchestral timbre with silky violin tone. This is particularly true in the SACD modes, which show off Monsieur Kantorow's Stradivarius to great advantage. As for the piano, it's generally well captured, but there's a hint of digital grain in forte passages on the CD track. This is much less pronounced on the SACD ones, which are demonstration quality. Those with home theater systems will find the multichannel track gives them a front-row-center orchestra seat.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120825)
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Le Flem: Aucassin et Nicolette (cpte opera); Soloists/Chalvin/Lyon-BerTSol/PaySav O [Timpani]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Séverac: Coeur du moulin (cpte opera); Soloists/Ossonce/ToursOp C/ToursRC SO [Timpani]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Released in Europe some time ago, these operatic rarities on Timpani by two late romantic French composers now finally find their way to U.S. shores. Those liking Debussy's (1862-1918) La damoiselle élue (1887-8), Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-8) and Le martyre de St Sébastien (1911) will love them! These are the only currently available recordings.
The album pictured above and to the left features the intriguing chamber opera Aucassin and Nicolette by Paul Le Flem (1881-1984). The earliest of his vocal works, the composer based his text for it on a 12-13th century medieval chantefable (sung story) of the same name. Originally intended to be offstage music for a Chinese shadow play, he completed it around 1910. But in essence this involved writing a miniature opera, so in 1924 it was transferred to the stage. Lasting only about forty minutes, the old adage "Short but sweet!" would seem to apply.
With a genesis like that it's not surprising to find this a follow-on to the exotic-sounding creations of French romantic "Orientalist" Félicien-César David (1810-1876, see the newsletter of 25 April 2012). Consequently pentatonism and modality are rife in Le Flem's delightful amalgam of East and West.
Divided into a prologue and three parts, or scenes, it's scored for five soloists, chorus and an orchestra consisting of strings, harp, piano and organ. Generally speaking, the melodic ideas are reserved for the orchestra and serve to introduce recitative-like lines for the soloists and chorus, which are always sung separately. A sprinkling of leitmotifs bond the music to Le Flem's immaculate libretto (see the album notes for the text in English and French).
The curtain goes up with the orchestra playing a commanding pentatonic motif (CP) [track-1, 00:02], which will become a unifying idée fixe throughout the opera. It's followed by an introduction for chorus and narrator, where the latter is a mezzo-soprano who sings instead of speaking her role, and is usually linked with a reference to CP.
They set the scene in the land of Beaucaire, France, and tell of the love between handsome Aucassin and the beautiful captive Saracen maiden Nicolette. He’s the son of Garin the Count of Beaucaire, who wants him to marry a count or king's daughter, and won't tolerate the idea of his being with Nicolette!
This sets the wheels in motion for the first part [track-2] of a novel stage work that begins with Aucassin refusing to defend his father's territories. And in an amusing aria with some curious Chinese accompaniment [02:56], he goes on to tell Count Garin how he prefers hell to paradise, and must have the heathen Nicolette even if it means his damnation! His father then orders one of his viscounts to send her away, and imprisons his son so he can't go after her.
However, the viscount locks her in the tower of his nearby palace, from which she soon makes a Hollywood escape by climbing down some bedsheets tied end to end. She then sneaks into Garin's castle and comforts Aucassin in his cell. But armed men are on the prowl looking for her, and the first scene ends as the Narrator sings an aria with hints of CP [11:38], telling of her fortuitous escape from them.
The second part [track-3] begins with a lovely pastoral prelude [00:01]. The Narrator next describes a country scene with shepherds and the arrival of Nicolette, who's fled there to hide from Count Garin. She has a lyrical exchange with the shepherds [01:17], after which she goes into the adjoining forest to build a bower and wait for Aucassin, who's since been freed.
While out riding, he runs into the shepherds who tell him of her whereabouts. The scene then ends in a fetching sequence for the Narrator and reunited lovers, followed by an amorous orchestral nocturne [11:05] worthy of Debussy at his most intimate.
The legend tells us the happy couple then decide to leave Beaucaire. Accordingly the concluding part [track-4] opens with hints of CP [00:01] and the Narrator explaining they've been at sea for three days when Saracen pirate galleys appear on the horizon. The chorus then asks God in a reverent choral-like invocation [01:28] to save the lovers from the pagans.
But to no avail, as the Narrator returns [02:18] with more CP asides [03:43] informing us of their capture and separation. Nicolette is sent to Carthage, where she recalls she was once a king's daughter. Aucassin winds up back in Beaucaire, and the chorus tells [04:46] of his grief-stricken withdrawal from society.
The Narrator next announces [05:47] with a CP postscript [06:08] the arrival of a girl minstrel from distant lands. And yes, it's Nicolette in disguise, who eventually reveals herself to Aucassin. This tiny idyllic operatic gem then concludes with everyone extolling the happiness of love, a final modal reference to CP [11:02], and presumably everyone living happily ever after.
The soloists include sopranos Mélanie Boisvert (Nicolette) and Katia Velletaz (A little Shepherd), mezzo-soprano Delphine Haidan (Narrator), tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac (Aucassin), and baritone Armand Arapian (Garin). All of them are in fine voice, but Monsieur Arapian can sound a bit like Bert Lahr's Cowardly Lion. They receive superb support from the Lyon - Bernard Tétu Soloists Chorus, and Pays de Savoie Orchestra under Nicolas Chavlin, who give totally committed highly sensitive performances of this rarely heard delicate stage work.
A studio recording done at Cité des arts in Chambéry, France, the soloists, chorus and orchestra are ideally placed and balanced across a modest soundstage in a minimally reverberant acoustic. Consequently the sonics are extremely transparent, revealing all the detail of Le Flem's immaculate chamber scoring. The instrumental timbre is very musical, but the voices have an edge. Had this been a hybrid release, that probably wouldn't have been the case on the SACD stereo and multichannel tracks.
Turning to the other disc, Timpani gives us the two act Le coeur du moulin (The Heart of the Mill) by Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921). Known mostly for his piano music, he did dabble in stage works with this being his only surviving opera. It must have been a labor of love judging from its long gestation period that began in 1901 and ended with the finalized version of 1908 presented here.
The libretto (see the album notes for the text in English and French), based on the play Le Retour (date unknown) by French writer Maurice Magre (1877-1941, no background information readily available), is a collaboration between the author and composer. Set in the same Languedoc region of France as Le Flem's opera, but in the late eighteenth century, it also shows the influence of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande (1893-8) in the vocal lines. However, the orchestral writing is more Western, and at times recalls Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931, see the newsletter of 10 May 2011), who'd been one of Séverac's teachers.
In two acts each consisting of an introduction and seven scenes, it's scored for six principal soloists, chorus and a full-size orchestra. After a somber opening [track-1] that builds in excitement, the curtain goes up revealing a rustic village with an old well and windmill in the background. This will be the setting for the whole opera.
The first scene is a rousing celebratory ensemble number [track-2] for the local grape Harvesters, lovely Marie and her friend Louison, plus some Villagers. Little sprinklings of celesta [01:17 and 02:50] make the music all the more phosphorescent.
The next scene [track-3] introduces Jacques, who was once engaged to Marie, but left the village without marrying her, and is now returning after a long absence. In the meantime she has married his old friend Pierre.
Jacques enters singing a jolly folkish ditty (JF) [00:00], followed by some fetching magic choruses representing the voices of the Well [03:08], Windmill [04:13] and Nature 05:52]. A poignant exchange between him and Marie [track-4] having all the drama of Massenet (1842-1912, see the newsletter of 15 January 2008) follows. In it they reaffirm their love for one another and plan to run off, thus establishing the love triangle driving the opera.
The concluding four scenes introduce Pierre [tracks-5 and 6], Jacques' godfather [track-7], who’s the old and wise Miller, and his Mother [track-8]. The act ends in another oenological encomium by the Harvesters, and a sage pronouncement from the Miller about the indelible stain love leaves on the human heart.
After a somewhat impressionistic twilit introduction [track-9], the second act curtain goes up on the same scene. The Harvesters enter [track-10] praising wine, and announce the arrival of the Villagers, who come in to a catchy rustic march (CR) [track-11]. This is followed by a charming choral dance [track-12] based on folk material from Longuedoc and nearby Catalonia. All exit to a jaunty number [track-13] with colorful xylophonic trills and recollections of CR [01:57], leaving the Miller alone on the stage.
He's soon joined by Marie [track-14], who declares her love for Jacques and intention of going away with him. He's then heard approaching with a vocalized version of JF [03:06], and the Miller asks her to leave for a moment so he can speak with him. He enters and the Miller implores him in an emotionally charged exchange [track-15] to immediately leave the village, thereby preventing a breakup between Marie and Pierre.
But the Mother appears [track-16], and along with the voices of the Well [05:55] and Nature [07:37] entreats him to stay. Embellishments on the celesta [07:51] and the distant sound of hunting horns [08:54] as well as the Angelus bell [09:03 and 09:48] add color to the score.
However life is never easy, and we next hear [track-17] the cry of a wise old Owl (Jacques' conscience?) counseling him to leave sans Marie. This is followed by the voices of the Mill [01:34] telling Jacques of its intention to invoke some of his childhood memories. The scene then ends with the Miller admonishing Jacques and his Mother about the suffering he’ll cause Pierre if he takes Marie away. This effects a change of heart in the Mother, who now encourages her son to go.
The next scene opens as four "Dream Characters" emerge from the mill [track-18] reminding Jacques of his childhood, and encouraging him to be on his way. It closes with a moving ensemble number for him and the Villagers in which reason prevails and he heads down the path out of town. The opera's last scene [track-19] has the Mother telling Marie of his departure, and Marie falling grief-stricken into her arms. The Villagers then sing a final chorus acclaiming autumn and the altruistic Jacques.
The cast includes sopranos Sophie Marin-Degor (Marie) and Sabine Revault d’Allonnes (Louison, Owl, Corn Fairy Dream Character), mezzo-sopranos Marie-Thérèse Keller (Mother) and Anna Destraël (Rounds Fairy Dream Character), tenor Christophe Berry (Pierre, Beggar Dream Character), baritones Jean-Sébastien Bou (Jacques) and Pierre-Yves Pruvot (Miller), as well as bass Frédéric Bourreau (Old Christmas Dream Character).
All of them deliver technically accomplished, sensitive performances that bring out the naive charm of this Gallic oddity. The Tours Opera Chorus and Regional Center Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jean-Yves Ossonce give them committed support, making for an excellent account of this long lost stage work.
Done by the same personnel who produced Aucaussin and Nicolette, but in the Espace André Malraux auditorium, Joué-les-Tours, France, the recording is identical to the one above except for a slightly bigger soundstage occasioned by the larger forces involved. Consequently the same comments apply as before.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120824, P120823)
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Woyrsch: Sym 2, Hamlet Ov; Dorsch/OldenSt O [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German composer Felix Woyrsch (1860-1944) makes his CLOFO debut with this recent CPO release. Essentially self-taught, he wrote many vocal/choral works, three operas, a substantial body of chamber music, and a significant amount of orchestral fare that includes seven symphonies (one unnumbered).
We're treated here to a couple of his earlier efforts in the last category, which are rooted in Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Schumann (1810-1856), Bruckner (1824-1896), and Brahms (1833-1897), while sounding concurrent with music being written then by Weingartner (1863-1942, see the newsletter of 6 January 2012), Richard Strauss (1864-1949, see the newsletter of 11 July 2007), and Pfitzner (1869-1949, see the newsletter of 23 February 2011). These are the only currently available recordings of either piece.
Originally composed around 1900, the disc begins with the third and final version of Woyrsch's Overture to Shakespeare's Hamlet [track-1] dating from 1912. True to the spirit of the play, it opens ominously with a drum roll, portentous passages for the lower strings, phantasmal wind flourishes, and a couple of gong bongs prefacing the ghostly appearance of Hamlet's dead father.
The gloom lifts briefly as we hear a lovely pristine theme [03:53] denoting "The fair Ophelia." Doom and innocence battle it out in the following development with the former prevailing. The overture then ends in a leaden funeral march [09:01] as Hamlet's body is borne away, followed by some melancholy closing measures perfectly suited to this enduring tragedy.
The fifty-minute second symphony of 1912-13 that's next is another example of a significant romantic work derailed by World War I (1914-18), and the classical music world's subsequent preoccupation with the avant-garde. In four-movements, the opening one marked "lively" [track-2] is in sonata form and begins with a rhythmically cheeky riff (RC) [00:06]. It's soon followed by a proud heroic idea (PH) [00:31], and then some antic heehaws [01:36] borrowed from Mendelssohn (see the newsletter of 13 July 2012).
The extended development is most ingenious with thematic material deftly fragmented, modulated and recombined. It also includes an impressive fugal foray [06:02] based on RC, as well as a delightful pastoral episode [07:58]. All this gives way to a brief recapitulatory coda recalling PH [10:39] and RC [11:52], which are then merged to close the movement in thrilling fashion.
The next one [track-3] certainly lives up to its markings of "slow and solemn" with a couple of memorable ideas that become food for some heavy musical thought. There's a Brahmsian ebb and flow here as well as passages [08:40] calling to mind the last movement of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Pastoral Symphony (No. 6, 1808) and Wagner's (1813-1883) Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde (1865).
Then instead of the usual scherzo, we get a charming theme and variations [track-4] indicated as "simple and leisurely." The seemingly folk-derived subject (SF) [00:00] is followed by five transformations that seem to be of rustic persuasion, with the first [01:11] resembling a perky peasant dance. The second [02:48] conjures up hunters calling to each other with horns as they gallop out of the woods, which are suggested by what sounds like a forest-bird in the third [03:48].
The yawning somniferous fourth variation [05:49] seems to usher in nighttime, and the world of dreams. While the fifth [08:58] sees the return of those hunters along with an ursine motif [09:18] that has them chasing a bear! Having subdued the beast, calm prevails with the reappearance of SF [10:15], ending this extraordinary country outing much as it began.
With its fragmented motifs and convoluted development, the modified sonata form finale [track-5] billed as "lively, fast and urgent" is a structural labyrinth. It begins with an angular snapping idea (AS) [00:00] that's elaborated and repeated a couple of times. A Brahmsian chorale-like melody (BC) is then presented [2:03] as if it were the subject for a fugue soon to follow. But it never does, and instead we get a dramatic elaboration of BC plus AS along with an elusive sprinkling of contrapuntal jimmies.
The music then pauses [04:59] only to begin a new developmental phase. Subdued at first, this quickly builds in emotional intensity to a recapitulation [07:21] that starts with BC once again stated in false-alarm fugal fashion. Bits and pieces of AS also surface, and then the symphony ends in a manic coda [09:19] of ecstatic abandon.
The performances by the Oldenburg State Orchestra under conductor Thomas Dorsch are superb. They play this music with an enthusiasm and sensitivity that make an exceptional listening experience out of what in less caring hands would come off as ordinary fare.
Made at the North German Radio's (NDR) large studio in Hannover, the recordings project a bowed soundstage in a warm acoustic. More specifically, the outer strings seem closer than the central part of the orchestra. However, this is not as pronounced as on another CPO disc done in the same studio, which we told you about last year (see the newsletter of 19 December 2011). Be that as it may, the instrumental timbre is very musical with limpid highs and deep transient bass. Audiophiles liking a more spacious wetter sound will probably find this disc appealing.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120822)
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