CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
12 SEPTEMBER 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.
Andersson, B.T.: Garden of Delights, Warriors; Andersson/NLandsOp O [Sterling]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
A couple of months ago we told you about a Sterling release with one of Sweden's most promising young conductors, B. Tommy Andersson (b. 1964, see the newsletter of 14 May 2012). But he's also an accomplished composer, and now they give us world premiere recordings of two recent Andersson orchestral works. Like his Finnish counterpart Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958, see the newsletter of 13 July 2009), his familiarity with a wide-ranging variety of scores probably explains his colorist proclivities.
The program begins with a fifteen-minute symphonic poem The Garden of Delights (2009) inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's (1450-1516) phantasmagoric triptych (1490-1510). It gets off to an orgiastic start [track-1, [00:03] in keeping with all the bizarre goings-on pictured in the central Garden of Earthly Delights panel. Highly kinetic and brilliantly orchestrated, this maniacal offering is a latter-day encapsulation of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1913).
The revelry ends as prolonged horn calls [02:40] announce what must be the left "Garden of Eden" painting. Peacefully pastoral with occasional bird calls, it’s dominated by diaphanous phrases reminiscent of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) more rustic moments.
Additional solo horn passages [13:10] then herald a transition to the right "Hell" panel where all those libertines in the first picture receive their just deserts. The colorful percussion-laced chaos characterizing the opening returns, as they're scourged, eviscerated, skewered, roasted, and otherwise subjected to the eternal torments of hell. The poem ends in a collective agonizing scream.
The Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC) provided the impetus for the next selection, Warriors. It was there that three hundred Theban foot soldiers (later known as The Sacred Band of Thebes), who’d been surrounded by the Macedonian Army under Philip II (382-336 BC, and Alexander's father), chose to die heroically rather than surrender.
Incidentally, those familiar with the US military's "DADT" policy will be interested to know legend has it these Thebans were specially chosen couples! That's because in Classical Greece there was a belief that male lovers would fight more fiercely than "straight" combatants -- see Plato's (424-347 BC) Symposium (385-380 BC).
But returning to "the main stream of this evening's symposium," the forty-minute choreographic poem Warriors was written in 2010 and opens with three mystic rising chords (TM) [track-2, 00:08]. These introduce six connected dance episodes, the first of which the composer tells us is battle music [00:28]. And very bellicose it is with a catchy rhythmic thrust and parry riff (TP) [01:05]!
Flighty bridging passages [04:43] transition into an attractive love scene (AL) [05:02] highlighted by an erotic crescendo. This section then segues via "celestal" starlight [08:49] into a third wind and string-dominated episode [09:23]. Somewhat meandering, it’s probably more effective on stage than in the confines of your listening room.
Horns introduce the queasy fourth dance sequence [18:09], which is characterized by mischievous muted brass, saucy knocks on a woodblock, and some seismic drum work. It builds to a towering climax worthy of Edgard Varčse's (1883-1965) more deranged moments, and then transforms along with a reemergence of TP [23:52] into the fifth scene. This is an even more ferocious version of the opening one.
As hostilities abate, the music dies away, ending in a brief funereal remembrance of the departed Thebans [27:51]. Then after a moment of silence for the dead, we get the concluding section [29:05], which according to the album notes begins with a totally darkened stage.
Intermittent chords on the celesta represent the gradual appearance of stars with the winds and strings recreating AL. The music then builds to a triumphant conclusion presumably as the souls of those lover warriors cross the River Styx into Elysium. The work ends with string-caressed memories of TM [37:38].
The composer conducts the Norrland's Opera Orchestra (NOO) in what will probably be definitive performances of this relatively new music for some time to come. Incidentally, Warriors is being done here by an orchestra that began as a military band back in 1841.
Made on two separate occasions in the Umeĺ Concert Hall, Sweden, the recordings present slightly different soundstages, with that for Garden... seeming a bit more compressed. The instrumental timbre is musical but on the bright side for both. Considering the reverberant nature of the venue, this is all for the best as it brings out more of the detail in Andersson's complex scores.
One last thought, Warriors is particularly impressive for some clean rock-bottom bass, which adds considerably to the disc's overall dynamic range. Accordingly it's cut at a relatively low level, so you'll want to set your volume control higher than usual to experience the full effect.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120912)
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Gaito: Pno Qnt, Pno Trio, Vc Son; Herrera/Sarastro Qt [CPO]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Back in 2010 we brought Argentinean composer Constantino Gaito's (1878-1945) string quartets to your attention (see the newsletter of 29 October 2010). Now thanks to those CPO champions of rare repertoire here are three more of his chamber works. Two of them are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.
Gaito was born in Buenos Aires of Italian parents, and except for six years of study in Italy, spent his life there. He was a prolific composer whose output covers the entire classical musical spectrum, and is generally divided into two stylistic periods on either side of the early 1920s. The first one is characterized by the Old World principles he learned in Europe. While a growing sense of nationalism dominates the second in the form of New World folk traditions indigenous to Argentina as well as other South American countries.
Dating from 1917-18, the selections on this CD fall into the first category, and make it one of the most outstanding late romantic discs of discovery to roll down CPO's memory lane in a long time! By the way we have Gaito's great-granddaughter Agustina Herrera, also our pianist, to thank for going back to the composer's original manuscripts, thereby giving us the most authentic versions of these scores now available.
All three works follow a fast-slow-fast movement design, and the concert begins with the exquisite piano trio from 1917 (OCAR), which augurs Ildebrando Pizzetti's (1880-1968) of 1925 (see the newsletter of 10 September 2010). The opening allegro is a soaring testimony to Gaito's abilities as a tunesmith. It's followed by a moving melancholy lento, and then another allegro with more melodic memorabilia. The endearing optimistic conclusion leaves you feeling it all ended too soon!
The sonata for cello and piano completed in 1918 comes next. The opening allegro [track-4] is in sonata form and begins with the cello stating an angular folkish ditty (AF) [00:00]. The piano transforms this [00:35] into a related songlike melody (RS) picked up by the cello [00:57]. The two ideas are then subjected to an articulate development ending in a fugal treatment of AF [04:12], and an exultant recapitulative final coda melding it with RS.
The andante [track-5] begins with an extended sad melody (ES) for the cello [00:00]. The mood brightens every now and then with cyclic tidbits of AF and RS, but ES finally prevails.
The energy of the opening allegro returns in the finale [track-6], which starts off with an expansive two-part theme (ET) [00:00 and 00:31] worthy of César Franck (1822-1890). It’s the recurrent idea for this closing rondo, which is imbedded with bits of AF and RS that add a feeling of Franckian cyclicity. The sonata ends in a virtuosic coda of jubilation based on ET, and those liking it should make sure they hear the cello sonatas of Camillo Schuman (1872-1946, see the newsletter of 10 March 2011) and Franco Alfano (1875-1954, see the newsletter of 31 July 2009).
The piano quintet of 1916-17 (OCAR) concludes the program. The opening allegro [track-7] is in what might be called bassackwards sonata form, and begins with a premature development hinting at the main theme yet to come. In this regard Gaito is a thematic tease who loves to hint at a melody before actually stating it.
But it’s well worth the wait when we finally get the whole empanada, because it's a killer lilting tune (KL) [00:49] that once again proves what an exceptional melodist Constantino was! Further developmental machinations and a second antsy motif (SA) follow [02:09]. Then both KL and SA undergo some fetching chromatic manipulations, after which a rousing pizzicato-laced recap [06:42] ends the movement in brilliant sunshine.
A few clouds roll in for the subdued andante [track-8], which is an amorous duet based on a romantically tender tune [00:11] and a gloomy countermelody [01:37]. It includes a passionate cadential outburst from the piano [05:06-05:33], and recalls RT before ending on a sublime sustained high note for the strings.
The sun bursts forth again in the final allegro [track-9], which begins with an explosive repeated riff (ER) [00:01 and 00:19] that in typical Gaito fashion is a teaser for the folksy dance-like ditty (FD) to follow [00:29]. This is a rondo having ER and FD as its recurring ideas, and a cyclic reference to KL [02:46]. The movement concludes with subdued allusions to ER that turn exultant, ending the quintet in a state of ecstasy. Those liking it should also investigate Respighi's (1879-1936) piano quintet (1902).
Using her virtuosity only in the service of this alluring music, pianist Agustina Herrera makes a strong case for her granddad's scores (see above). And she couldn't have better support than from the members of the Sarastro Quartet, whom we've mentioned in these pages for their recent traversal of Felix Weingartner's (1863-1942) chamber music for strings (see the newsletter of 6 January 2012).
A coproduction between CPO and Swiss Radio, these studio recordings were made in Switzerland. They're generally good and present an appropriately sized soundstage in a warm acoustic. The piano is beautifully captured and balanced against the strings, which border on the bright side. Speaking of balance, some may feel the need to tweak their controls as the overall sound seems skewed slightly to the left.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120911)
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Holmboe: Chbr Syms Cpte (1, 2 "Elegy", 3 "Frise"; Storgĺrds/Lap ChO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Most would agree Vagn Holmboe (1909-1996) was Denmark's greatest symphonist after Carl Nielsen (1865-1931, see the newsletter of 26 March 2010) and Rued Langgaard (1893-1952, see the newsletter of 10 September 2010). So it's something of an occasion that the three chamber symphonies from the latter half of his career finally see the light of day on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), Dacapo release.
Without a wasted note, this is rigorously compact, sinewy music that will grow on you with each listening. The composer's principle of thematic metamorphosis is evident throughout these world premiere recordings.
The first symphony dating from 1951 is an articulate four-movement neoclassical gem, whose opening andante [track-1] begins with a threatening timpani roll (TT) [00:00]. This heralds an austere utilitarian motif (AU) [00:02] played by the brass that's the DNA for the whole work. A brief anguished development follows, and then the movement ends quietly.
A fleeting animato and ruminative adagio are next. The former [track-2] is a saucy scherzo with strands of AU and hyperactive timpani parts. While the latter [track-3] finds strings and winds transforming AU into an extended full-fledged theme (EF) [00:00], which is then food for some serious thought. There are moments in both movements reminiscent of Nielsen's last three symphonies (1914-25).
The final allegro [track-4] begins with a scampering idea that's a metamorphosed version of EF, and ends recalling TT and AU. This brings the symphony full circle, and again shows what an accomplished structuralist Holmboe was.
It would be seventeen years before the composer completed his next effort in this genre. While it retains the four-movement layout of its predecessor, coming so much later than the first, the second symphony of 1968 subtitled "Elegy" is considerably more complex.
The opening andante [track-5] gets off to a hushed start with rustling strings, vibraphone diacritics, mocking horn calls and a plaintive oboe melody (PO) [00:31]. This is the subject for the variations filling out this icy movement, where there are moments reminiscent of Bartók's (1881-1945) Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) and Concerto for Orchestra (1943).
The presto [track-6] is an explosive, percussively cantankerous PO-derived offering where the vibraphone is even more prominent. There's a sad horn motif (SH) [03:00] based on PO not long before the movement ends just as suddenly as it began.
The pensive adagio that follows [track-7] has an impassioned central episode and unifying, metamorphosed versions of PO [00:08] and SH [02:18]. It brings Bartók to mind again, but this time the second movement "Night Music" in his third piano concerto (1945).
Turmoil breaks out once more in the final allegro [track-8]. Then PO temporarily asserts control [01:07 and 01:26], restoring the peaceful opening mood of the first movement. But disruptive forces are soon at work [04:06], bringing things to a total standstill. A new subdued idea then emerges [05:42], builds to a dramatic crescendo, and fades ending the symphony in medias res. More from the head than the heart, this is Gebrauchsmusik with intellectual rather than emotional appeal.
Holmboe would write his third and final chamber symphony over the next two years (1969-70). Composed in association with a sculptor friend's creation of a frieze for a Danish school building, it's accordingly named "Frise" ("Frieze"). In six movements with Italian markings, the album notes tell us the school's entablature was modeled on their names. As for the music, there's an anatomic informality that makes it a suite of tone pictures rather than one of the composer's rigorously structured symphonies.
The opening "Tempo giusto. Sereno con variazioni" ("Precise. Serene with variations") [track-9] starts with a spun-out anguished melody [00:00] mostly for strings and brass that undergoes a couple of Holmboe metamorphous transformations. The following animated "Allegro vivace" ("Very fast") [track-10] is entirely different with skittering xylophonic passages that add a whimsical air. Both movements have a harmonic austerity reminiscent of Paul Hndemith's (1895-1963) Concert Music for Strings and Brass (1930), and Mathis der Mahler Symphony (1934).
With its timpani tattoos, there's a foreboding about the next "Lento e tranquillo" ("Slow and tranquil") [track-11] harkening back to the last movement passacaglia of Brahms' (1833-1897) fourth symphony (1884-5). Then the mood turns somewhat mysterious in the following "Grave con metamorfosi ("Serious with metamorphoses") [track-12]. Here a disembodied theme undergoes an eerie morphogenesis made all the more spooky by glissandi plus scoring that includes organ, xylophone, vibraphone and celesta.
It would seem some "Messiaenic" birdies flew north and roosted in "Intermezzo. Chiaro" ("Intermezzo. Clear") [track-13] and "Allegro con forza" ("Fast with strength") [track-14]. The former might best be described as a featherlight avian scherzo, while the latter is a driving finale with sporadic ornithological ornaments, and ends the symphony in thrilling fashion. Many may find this the disc's high point.
Recorded in Rovaniemi, Finland, bordering the frigid wastelands of the Arctic Circle, these white-hot performances by the Lapland Chamber Orchestra (LCO) under their artistic director John Storgĺrds belie their origin. The playing is technically as well as artistically of the highest order, proving the LCO's thirty-two musicians are all virtuosos in their own right.
Done in the town church, the recordings create a spacious but detailed soundstage of considerable depth in an acceptably live acoustic. The many instrumental solos are ideally highlighted, and the orchestral timbre is very musical on all three tracks. The sound is characterized by sparkling highs, a convincing midrange, and low clean bass.
The SACD modes seem to produce a marginally smoother upper end, and the multichannel one will give you a front seat in the nave. There's one moment where conductor Storgĺrds seems to be exhorting his troops on to greater things [track-7 at 02:39]. But it's barely audible, and with the results he gets, who cares!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120910)
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Isasi: Cpte Stg Qt Wks V1 (0 & 2); Isasi Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
With this Naxos release we welcome little known, Spanish-born composer Andrés Isasi (1891-1940) to CLOFO. A student of Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921, see the newsletter of 25 April 2012) in Berlin between 1909 and 1914, he’d become one of his favorite pupils. He'd then go on to write a significant number of works highlighted by a couple of symphonies, two orchestral suites, several symphonic poems, a piano concerto (currently unavailable on disc), and some chamber music that includes eight string quartets.
Two of the latter are on this disc, which is the first of three projected Naxos CDs devoted to all his extant music in this genre. The program begins with No. 0, which has a posthumous numbering based on a 1908 completion date, and the presence of what Isasi designated as his No. 1 from 1911. In four movements, it's one of his earliest works, and you'll find an affinity with Dvorák (1841-1904) and Grieg (1843-1907, see the newsletter of 22 March 2012). The opening allegro [track-1] is downright gorgeous with a standout to-die-for melody (ST) [01:29], while a feeling of melancholy haunts the lento.
A berceuse with a couple of folkish sounding tunes follows. Then the work closes with a finale [track-4] that starts soulfully, but brightens as a couple of lively ideas are introduced. These are developed and recapped along with a fond final remembrance of ST [06:25], ending the quartet on a wistful note.
The world premiere recording of the second quartet written in 1920 follows. Also in four movements, this is a much more progressive piece with an opening allegro [track-5] having all the rigor of those furrow-browed movements in Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets (1810-26). The tension is relieved by an introspective adagio [track-6], where thematic fragmentation and chromatic manipulation give the music a late-romantic cast.
The next intermezzo [track-7] is a curiosity. It starts off with an agitated cheeky opening section [00:00], followed by a fugal episode that's set off like a separate movement [02:31]. It's almost as if Isasi pasted in one of his counterpoint exercises for Engelbert -- and a very good one at that!
The finale takes the form of another allegro with a couple of memorable themes that are skillfully elaborated. Harmonic diversity holds the listener's attention, and makes the final recapitulation all the more dramatic as the quartet ends joyously.
The members of the Isasi Quartet are strong proponents of this music, giving us technically polished, moving accounts of these scores. They leave you anxiously anticipating their next installment for Naxos further exploring this neglected corner of late romantic chamber music.
Made at Château d’Arcangues in the Aquitaine region of France, the recordings project an up-front soundstage in a dry acoustic. Consequently the strings come across with great clarity, but this opulent music would have sounded even better had there been a greater feeling of space surrounding the performers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120909)
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Petrassi: Pno Conc, Follia... Ste, Partita (orch); Alberti/Tamayo/RAINa SO [Strad]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Italian piano concertos have frequented these pages the last couple of years (see the newsletters of 23 July 2010, 30 September 2010 and 31 May 2012, and here's another one from Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003). It's accompanied on this engaging new release from Stradivarius with two of his other most highly thought of works. Written between 1932 and 1945, all three belong to his tonal neoclassical period, which predates later forays into the world of dodecaphony.
His one and only piano concerto of 1936-9 is in three movements, the first of which begins with an energetic preamble for the orchestra followed by the piano suddenly entering full tilt. It introduces a disembodied theme that soloist and tutti explore in an arresting developmental dialogue with a textural density reminiscent of Russian composer Nikolai Medtner's (1880-1951) piano concertos (1914-43).
There are also some keyboard fireworks, which eventually dissipate as the piano and a subdued orchestra end the movement uneventfully. This sets the mood for the next aria with variations [track-2].
For the most part introspective, it begins with a lithe, graceful subject [00:01] stated by the piano. The five thematic transformations that follow include a bravura third [07:30] for the soloist, catchy fourth [09:43] with Prokofiev (1891-1953) overtones, and a melodious subdued fifth [11:17], recalling the opening.
The final rondo gets off to a querulous orchestral start with the piano soon presenting a rhythmically contentious idea. This is subjected to a series of virtuosic developmental contortions, and the concerto ends with soloist and tutti sprinting to the finish line.
Next, a suite [track-4] from the composer's ballet La follia di Orlando (Orlando's Folly, 1942-3), based on Ludovico Ariosto's (1474-1533) epic poem Orlando furioso (Orlando's Frenzy, 1506-32). Lasting about twenty minutes and brilliantly orchestrated, it's a neoclassical throwback to Renaissance times that even includes a harpsichord. In that respect it brings to mind some of De Sabata's (1892-1967) incidental music for The Merchant of Venice (1934, see the newsletter of 13 July 2012).
A forceful brass-enhanced opening [00:01] with a rhythmic drive recalling Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1913), gives way to a lovely pastoral serenade [01:17] for winds and strings with harpsichord embellishments. Then the tempo picks up in an impish scherzo-like section [08:28] having fetching passages for solo flute with occasional xylophonic decorations.
The work ends in a threatening martial dance [15:09] that calls to mind Hindemith's (1895-1963) Symphonic Metamorphosis... (1943). Dramatic percussion-laced passages conclude the suite forcefully.
The disc is filled out with Petrassi's early prize-winning Partita of 1932, which brought his name to public attention in Europe. The first of its three sections is a fascinating "Gagliarda" ("Galliard") [track-5] that's somewhat hermaphroditic! It juxtaposes a muscular syncopated theme (MS) [00:01] with a curvaceous saxophone-dominated one (CS) [01:48], finally ending as it opened. MS may once again remind you of Hindemith, while CS recalls Milhaud's (1892-1974) ballet La création du monde (The Creation of the World, 1923) to mind.
The moving "Ciaccona" ("Chaconne") that’s next [track-6] is essentially a passacaglia, and in some ways augurs the one in Casella's (1883-1947) Concerto for Orchestra (1937, see the newsletter of 13 July 2012). It begins with a somber ostinato motif that underpins the inventive variations that follow. The scoring is made all the more exotic by the inclusion of saxophone, piano and bass clarinet.
The closing "Giga" ("Gigue") is an airborne moto perpetuo with piano obbligato and jazzy asides. It has all the bounce of the last movement from Casella's Scarlattiana (1926, see the newsletter of 23 July 2010), and ends the Partita on a high, and this wonderful disc of discovery with a smile.
Italian pianist Alfonso Alberti has a reputation as an outstanding twentieth century music specialist, which is certainly borne out by his accomplished performance of the concerto. With technical ability to burn, the dynamic and rhythmic detail he brings to Petrassi's demanding score is exceptional. His efforts are admirably supported by Spanish conductor Arturo Tamayo and the RAI National Symphony Orchestra, who go on to give magnificent accounts of the other two selections.
The recordings were made in the RAI Auditorium, Torino, Italy, and present a wide detailed soundstage in a warm acoustic. The instrumental timbre is luminous, but musically pleasing. The piano is generally well captured, but could have been a bit more highlighted to better show off Signor Alberti's considerable talent.
There is a mysterious momentary scratching noise in the slow movement of the concerto [track-2 at 10:07], and a couple of Bernstein bounces by Maestro Tamayo on what must have been a timpanic podium. Other than that the sonics are commendable with crystalline highs and deep well-defined bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P120908)
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Summer, J.: Garden of Forking Paths (stg qt); Kalmia Qt [Albany]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Joseph Summer (b. 1956) is probably best known today as the moving force behind the Shakespeare Concerts in Massachusetts. But on the basis of his almost hour long string quartet known as The Garden of Forking Paths occupying this new Albany release, he easily qualifies as one of America's most engaging contemporary composers.
Those with a penchant for stream of consciousness, highly intellectual epistles dealing with such diverse topics as dodecaphony and quantum mechanics (Schrödinger's cat anyone?), will enjoy the fifty-three page album booklet. It's a collection of program notes and letters by the composer, where you'll find all you ever wanted to know -- and then some -- about this quixotic but approachable quartet.
For our purposes here, suffice it to say it dates from 2007 and is in five movements, each being a musical representation of a story by Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986). The opening and closing pairs are played without a pause.
The first entitled "Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote" (1941) [track-1, 00:02] tells about the plagiaristic attempts of an imaginary author to rewrite Cervantes' (1547-1616) Don Quixote (1605-15). And in the spirit of Borges’ story, the composer begins by lifting the opening of Mozart's (1756-1791) Dissonance Quartet (No. 19, K465; 1785), but turned on its head! Do you suppose Summer was acquainted with John Ramsay's Homage to Mozart K465 Quartet (No. 3; 2004, see the newsletter of 12 April 2012)?
That slice of Mozart upside-down cake is the subject of the fetching lyrical elaboration that follows, transitioning into the next movement "Shakespeare's Memory" (1983) [08:35]. The latter begins with English connotations in the form of elements from Elizabethan composer William Byrd's (1543-1623) Earl of Oxford's March (MB 93, late 1500s). This was chosen for its association with the 17th Earl of Oxford, Edward de Vere (1550-1604), who's frequently named as the true author of Shakespeare's plays. An imaginative development follows, and then Summers infects the music's rhythm with a strange tango virus, concluding the piece in Borges' backyard.
The rhapsodic third part, "Laudatores Temporis Acti" ("In Praise of Past Times") [track-2], is associated with another Borges tale (name not readily available) that explores the notion of the present having no causal relationship with the past. Consequently this movement exhibits a dual personality, and begins monophonically with a mournful modal melody (MM) [00:01] harkening back to early music of bygone days.
But it soon turns polyphonic with the addition of modernistic elements (MEs) [00:43] indicative of current times. However, the past is never a prelude to the future in this tale, so the MEs develop independently, and the movement ends with only a slight whimper of MM.
The next section titled "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain" (1941) [track-3, 00:01] contemplates the association between the writings of another fictitious author and such musical concepts as repetition as well as transition. It’s a haunting minuet-trio-minuet whose unctuous main theme (UM) [00:06] is set to a pizzicato accompaniment that occasionally brings Schoenberg's (1874-1951) Verklärte Nacht (1899) to mind [04:25]. The trio [07:06-11:33] is a distortion of UM whose visual counterpart would be what you'd see in a fun house mirror.
This movement transitions via a cello pedal point [16:24] into the concluding The Library of Babel (1941), which Borges tells us houses everything that is or ever will be in print. Here the composer imagines he discovers alternate versions of this quartet, and gives us a theme with seven variations sampling parts of them. It begins with a fugal representation of the mysterious main subject [16:33], which toys with the opening measures of Beethoven's fourteenth string quartet (Op. 131, 1826).
The transformations which follow range from dramatically introspective [17:55] to flighty [21:08] with an insistent sawing motif (IS) [21:14], and waltzlike [23:18]. The frenzied final seventh [26:21] has more references to IS, and then the composer draws inspiration for the concluding coda [27:39] from Borges' The End (1953). But unlike the story, which apparently ends ambiguously, it terminates the quartet optimistically in a flurry of IS-accented hyperactivity.
Summer couldn't have better advocates than the members of the Kalmia String Quartet who play this music to perfection. Formed in 2010 from the student body and faculty of the Bard College Conservatory of Music in New York State, these musicians are a class act with virtuosity to burn, and a real feeling for this literary inspired neoromantic happening.
Made in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, which ranks with Symphony Hall, Boston as one of the finest venues in the United States, the recordings are very good. They project a generous yet well-focused soundstage in a reverberant space, which makes Summer's music sound all the richer, and will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The strings are on the bright side of musical, and should sound particularly well on subdued systems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y120907)
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