CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
16 JANUARY 2013
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.
Blumenfeld, F.: Sym in c "À la mémoire…"; Catoire: Sym in c; Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Dutton pulls more rabbits out of their magic hat of repertoire surprises with this latest "International" series release (see 8 February, 14 May, 19 October, and 7 November 2012) featuring the rarely heard sole symphonies of Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931) and Georgy Catoire (1861-1926). With nothing more to go on than the composers' names, most listeners would probably guess these works were of the German and French schools respectively, but that's far from the case!
Felix was indeed of German (Austrian to be exact) and Georgy, French paternal parentage. But in the early 1800s their grandfathers emigrated to Russia, where both composers were born. They would go on to study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Blumenfeld under Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908, see 30 August 2007), and Catoire briefly with Liadov (1855-1914).
Consequently these symphonies are of solid Russian persuasion by two men who were better known in their day as virtuoso pianists and outstanding teachers. Both works are in four movements, the key of C minor, and the only currently available versions on disc, with the Catoire being a world premiere recording.
Blumenfeld's symphony was written around 1905-06 in the wake of the unsuccessful 1905 Revolution. Subtitled "À la mémoire des chers défunts" ("To the Memory of the Beloved Dead"), it would seem to honor the many victims of that conflict, and anticipates Shostakovich's The Year 1905 (Symphony No. 11, 1957).
The opening movement [T-1] commences with a lugubrious introduction featuring a dark insistent melody (DI) [00:05]. This ebbs and flows into a sonata form central episode with a tragic primary theme [03:08] related to DI, and subdued hopeful countersubject (SH) [03:58]. A frenzied development worthy of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) follows, and then a brief recapitulation with the return of SH [07:05]. This achieves big tune status only to fade into a repeat of DI [08:40], and an impassioned reworking of the opening measures that ends the movement despondently.
A lovely nostalgic larghetto [T-2] with some uplifting ideas follows, relieving some of the previous gloom. Then we get a fiery scherzo [T-3] with rather militaristic brass-accented outer sections. They surround a tuneful central trio [02:45-04:44] that's in essence a scherzo within a scherzo, and recalls Rimsky's lighter orchestral moments.
After repeating the opening measures the closing ones segue via subdued passages [07:20] directly into the fourth and final movement marked epilogue [T-4]. This begins with a majestic soaring theme [00:01] that's an optimistic reworking of DI and builds to a towering climax with harp glissandi. Chromatically reminiscent of Wagner (1813-8883), it presumably implies hopes for better days to come!
Even more Russian-sounding than the Blumenfeld, Catoire's symphony was begun around 1889 as a sextet, which has not survived, and probably completed in early 1898. The initial sonata form allegro [T-5] opens with a winsome pastoral melody (WP) [00:01] that's elaborated and followed by a related folkish idea [02:02]. A brilliantly scored, consummate development with a couple of dramatic outbursts follows [03:31]. Then a powerful recapitulation [08:09] which trails away into a peaceful postscript [11:50], ending the movement with subdued hints of WP.
The merry outer sections of the scherzo [T-6] recall those catchy syncopated moments in Borodin's (1833-1887) symphonies, and surround an airy related trio tune [03:08] having all the appeal of Rimsky-Korsakov's more exotic melodies. The andante [T-7] is the work's emotional nexus with a soulful Slavic first theme [00:00] and more optimistic, bordering on heroic, second [02:06]. These are the ingredients for an extended dramatic Wagnerian development that closes with sad string chords that just fade away, ending the movement uneventfully.
The rejuvenative finale [T-8] is a hybrid theme and variations that's a singular Catoire creation and the symphony's high point. It begins with an exultant six-note motif (ES) [00:00], which becomes the idée fixe for a series of ES-related ideas elaborated and repeated in rondo fashion. Out of Rimsky-Korsakov and headed towards Glazunov (1865-1936) and Glière (1875-1956), they range from demure [01:12] to fey [02:52] as well as heroic [04:10]. The movement then concludes with recollections of WP [beginning at 08:32] along with hints of ES expanded into an ecstatic coda ending the symphony in dazzling sunshine.
Conductor Martin Yates and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra made a strong case for the Catoire piano concerto on a previous Dutton release (see 14 May 2012), and do the same for his symphony. Their groundbreaking performance unearths a buried treasure.
As for the Blumenfeld, up until now it was only on a Russian Disc (Igor Golovschin and the USSR State Symphony Orchestra) that disappeared a few years ago. So we have Dutton to thank for making it available again. However, most of those fortunate enough to have gotten the old recording will probably want to keep it as this new Yates version doesn't have as much Russian soul. But the sound is admittedly far superior, and the Catoire is a must for all romantics.
Made by the identical production staff and in the same venue (the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow) as the earlier Dutton (see 14 May 2012), these recordings project a crystal clear, well-balanced soundstage in a neutral acoustic. The instrumental timbre is generally pleasing; however, there is some upper end glitter.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130116)
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Franck, Ed.: Pno Trio 2, Vc Son 2, Vn Son 2; Tocco/Hanani/Ashkenasi [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Naxos' low price of admission makes this release an ideal introduction to German composer Eduard Franck's (1817-1893) music, which is now undergoing a well-deserved revival (see 13 July 2012). Although no dates are given, the three chamber works presented here were probably written in the 1850s, and include the only currently extant CD version of his second piano trio.
All show the influence of his mentor and close friend Mendelssohn (1809-1847) as well as his association with Schumann (1810-1856). Yet there's a harmonic and rhythmic adventurousness presaging later Brahms (1833-1897) and early Richard Strauss (1864-1949).
The concert opens with the second of his six piano trios. In four movements it begins with a singing allegro having a couple of memorable ideas that are masterfully developed. The scherzo that follows is right out of Mendelssohn, but with some chromatic excursions that are a Franck trademark. The same can be said of the gently swaying andante.
The final allegro is characterized by an angularity and rhythmic energy recalling Schumann. However, there's an increased emotionality about this movement that's more in line with the late romantic, and leaves the listener feeling this is not just a rehash of the past.
Next on the program we get the last of his two cello sonatas, which is a real gem! Also in four movements the initial allegro opens with a commanding Schumanesque theme followed by a gorgeous wistful countersubject that's all Eduard. The two ideas are subjected to a rigorous development that might best be described as a chromatic taffy pull. The following scherzo is all the more engaging for its contrasting bouncy outer sections and tearful central trio.
The adagio is the sonata's center of emotional gravity. It's a dark duet for the two instruments with only occasional glimmers of hope that eventually fade into oblivion. But sorrow turns to playfulness in the final impish presto, where the piano and cello chase each other in a melodic game of tag, ending the sonata with a grin.
The CD is filled out with the second of Eduard's four violin sonatas. Once again in four movements, the initial tune-swept allegro [T-9] opens with a comely nostalgic theme (CN) [00:00] that once again demonstrates Franck's considerable melodic gifts. The winsome andante that's next [T-10] begins with a charming lullaby (CL) [00:00] succeeded by some serious afterthoughts [01:35]. All are restated, developmentally intertwined, and then the movement ends with a chastened reminder of CL [05:53].
The catchy scherzo [T-11] juxtaposes an animated folk-dance-like number (FD) [00:00] and a related melancholy idea [01:15]. FD anticipates the concluding allegro [T-12], which starts off with a cheerful perky theme (CP) [00:00] distantly related to it. CP turns out to be the subject for a series of rondoesque variations that include a cadenza-like one for the violin [03:14]. There's also a reminder of CN [03:51] just before an exciting final coda based on CP ends the sonata exultantly.
Pianist James Tocco's playing is superb, but there's an intonational queasiness about cellist Yehuda Hanani and violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi's performances that makes one wonder if they might have been sight-reading their parts. Fortunately Franck's music is so exemplary it's easy to forget these shortcomings, particularly at Naxos prices.
Made on three separate occasions in 2009-10 these studio recordings project a modest soundstage in a confined acoustic. The piano is well captured with rounded tone, and the strings are natural sounding, but all would have benefitted from more spacious surroundings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130115)
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Liebermann, L.: Conc for Orch, Vars on Mozart Theme, Noct, Revelry; Llewellyn/BBC SO [Albany]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
It's a pleasure to welcome American composer Lowell Liebermann (b. 1961) back to CLOFO after a four-year absence (see 28 October 2008). Made in association with BBC Radio 3, these studio recordings of the four orchestral works appearing on this new Albany Records release are the only ones currently available on disc.
Romantic sounding one minute and contemporary the next, you'll find an eclecticism which speaks to the composer's familiarity with all periods of music. The upshot is some modern-day fare that's not only immediately understandable but appealing.
The program begins with his Concerto for Orchestra of 2002 [T-1], where he does Bartok (1881-1945) one better by including virtuosic solos for each section leader as well as a variety of ensemble groups. What's more there's a complex cross-rhythmic structure that keeps the conductor literally on his toes. All this gives rise to a brilliantly instrumented showpiece where Liebermann's adherence to rigorous rhythmic and harmonic principles holds the work together.
In one continuous thirty-minute movement it seems generally divisible into six alternately slow and fast spans. The first one [00:02] begins gravely with passages that are a cross between Schubert's (1797-1828) Unfinished Symphony (No. 8, 1822) and Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra (1942-43, revised 1945). But the music suddenly explodes into a vibrant second section [02:45] with a motif hinted at in the piece's opening measures. This is succeeded by cellular phrases the composer colorfully develops in similar fashion to Holmboe's (1909-1996) principle of thematic metamorphosis (see 12 September 2012).
Stabbing ff chords end this span, and after a short pause another slow section starts with rustling winds [07:07] introducing a winsome lyrical tune spun out by the high strings [07:16]. A jazzy scherzo-like percussion-laced episode [11:12] follows and builds to a raucous climax. Then after a brief caesura we get a mournful section for winds and strings [14:21]. This erupts into a manic sixth span [25:18] that ends the concerto with a jubilant fugato linked to a mini-passacaglia and thrilling final coda.
Next up, Variations on a Theme by Mozart from 2001 [T-2], where the infectious tune for Osmin and Pedrillo's duet "Vivat, Bacchus!" from the second act of Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, KV 384, 1782; see the Toch recommendation below) would seem to be the subject idea (SI), although it's never directly quoted. The variations start immediately as SI is introduced [00:15] along with some "wrong notes" and colorful percussion that includes piano. Ten more transformations follow, the first three being hymnlike [03:48], mysterious [05:24], and lachrymose [06:15].
The mood then lightens with a whimsical variant [07:21], delightfully inebriated 20s number [08:12], and a demonic tarantella [09:36] with a repentant afterthought [11:06]. These are succeeded by a mischievous fugato [13:35] and a rhapsodic passage [15:24] where chimes add an air of piety.
The piece then draws to a close with a reverent eight-part fugue [19:07] concluding with Martin Luther's (1483-1546) melody for "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" (1527-29) [21:45]. But not one to take himself too seriously, Lowell ends the Luther with another "wrong note." And then caps the variations with a hint of the work's opening measures [22:00] followed by an irreverent flighty coda [22:14].
The Nocturne of 2003 that follows is an orchestration of one originally for piano (No. 6, 1998; currently unavailable on disc), and finds the composer in a more serious frame of mind. Just short of despairing, it's a moving elegy characterized by an understatement and transparency like that found in Fauré (1845-1924), whom the composer acknowledges influenced the work.
The disc concludes on a brighter note with an ebullient seven-minute piece entitled Revelry [T-4] written in 1995. It's another set of variations that we're told takes its cue from a twelve-tone row, but don't get the idea it sounds anything like the Second Viennese School! There are no dodecaphonic themes, and the row notes Liebermann had in mind only define the pitch-levels and order of the variants.
The piece falls into three general sections, the first being a lightning fast passage reminiscent of Casella's (1883-1947, see 13 July 2012) more hyper moments, and the second a plaintive wind-dominated episode [03:26]. The animated third [04:24], which is a jambalaya of Prokofiev's (1891-1953) Classical Symphony (No.1, 1916-17) and Bernstein's (1918-1990) West Side Story Dances (1960) with some contrapuntal spicing, ends the disc on a real high.
Welsh conductor Grant Llewellyn and the BBC Symphony Orchestra give us enthusiastic articulate readings of these finely crafted scores. The demands made on the musicians by the concerto are considerable, and all come through with flying colors, delivering technically accomplished virtuoso performances. They prove themselves worthy advocates of Liebermann's music.
The performances were taped on separate occasions between 2002 and 2003 at the BBC's Maida Vale MV1 Studio in London, This is one of the largest recording spaces in the UK, which may explain the somewhat recessed soundstage. However, the surrounding acoustics are pleasing, and the instrumental balance is excellent, particularly in the concerto, thereby showing off the frequent solos to good effect.
The orchestral timbre is musical, but there are occasional upper bright spots. As for the low end, these transparent scores engender little in the way of deep bass, but what's there is very clean.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130114)
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Praetorius, M.; Brade; etc: Renaissance Dances (36, orch); Sempé/CapStravRen O [Paradizo]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Renaissance music enthusiasts are going to flip over this new CD from Paradizo. That's particularly true for listeners who loved that 1960 DGG Archiv Produktion LP of dances from German composer Michael Praetorius' collection known as (c. 1571-1621) Terpsichore. More of the same are to be found on this release along with others by Englishmen William Brade (1560-1630), John Bennet (c. 1575-1614) and Anthony Holborne (c. 1545-1602), as well as German Landgraf Moritz von Hessen-Kassel (1572-1632).
The colorful variety of instruments assembled here include seven strings, ten winds, lute, guitar, virginal, percussion, and a real rarity, the tiorbino or gut-strung harpsichord. They make these numbers all the more ear-catching!
The concert is divided into four ballos, or dance suites, with the opening one almost all Praetorius. In nine sections it opens with a drum pounding "passameze" [T-1] followed by three sprightly galliards [T-2, 5 and 6]. Four catchy ballet numbers [T-3, 4, 7 and 8] are next, the third of which is linked to a delightful Scottish dance from William Brade. The suite ends with the medieval Christmas hymn tune "Puer Natus in Bethlehem" [T-9].
This sets the tone for the second suite, which is initially more restrained and consists of eight numbers. The first three are from Praetorius with the tiorbino prominent in the beginning two [T-10 and 11]. The third is a lovely Spanish dance [T-12] that will sound familiar.
Other highlights include a couple of moving somber offerings courtesy of Brade [T-13 (lasting 04:52 and not 01:52 as indicated in the album notes) and 14], followed by a fetching melody for the anonymous Renaissance ballad "When Daphne from Fair Phoebus Did Fly" [T-15]. The suite concludes festively with two more Praetorius tunes featuring winds [T-16 and 17].
The third ballo opens with five spirited Brade numbers [T-18 through 22]. They're followed by three Praetorius offerings, the first two of which [T-23 and 24] will be fondly remembered by fans of the Archiv recording mentioned above. The third is the chorale-like melody for "Froloch o Tochter Zion fast" [T-25] found in his liturgical Musae Sioniae collection.
The concluding suite is a festive mix of all five composers, beginning with two Brade selections. These are a mellifluous mournful "paduana" (pavane) [T-26] and somewhat lighter "allmand" (allemande) [T-27]. Then it's off to the races with a couple of lively Praetorius numbers [T-28 and 29], again recalling that Archiv disc (see above).
A stately Brade galliard [T-30] and three antsy Preatorius ditties [T-31, 32 and 33], the second of which also harkens back to the Archiv CD, follow. The ballo concludes with Hessen-Kassel's funereal "Paduana del Sigr. Guilhelmo Keudelio" (pavane) [T-34], Holborne's uplifting galliard "Heigh ho holiday" (1599) [T-35], and the reserved tune for Bennet's "Venus' Birds" [T-36]. With some lovely gamba and recorder obbligato, it ends the disc introspectively.
Ambiguity surrounds the actual instrumentation of music from this period, so they're rarely two Renaissance dance band recordings of the same piece that sound alike. Suffice it to say the selections here are brilliantly arranged, and the twenty-odd members of the Capriccio Stravagante Renaissiance Orchestra under Skip Sempé give enthusiastic, technically accomplished performances that will sweep you off your feet! Maestro Sempé also doubles as soloist on the virginal and tiorbino (see above).
The recordings are excellent and project an ideally sized soundstage in warm reverberant surroundings. The instrumental timbre is very natural with pleasing highs and clean tight bass. Incidentally there must have been a church nearby judging by the barely audible sound of a tolling bell right after the Brade selection opening the third ballo [T-18].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130113)
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Sgambati: Sym 1; Cola di Rienzo Ov; Vecchia/Rome SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
After the death of Paganini (1782-1840) opera dominated the Italian musical scene until the appearance of Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914) and Giuseppe Martucci (1856-1909), whose chamber pieces, symphonies and concertos marked a resurgence of instrumental music in that country. We have conductor Francesco La Vecchia and the Rome Symphony Orchestra (RSO) to thank for investigating their works, two of which by Sgambati appear on this latest enterprising release from Naxos. As presented here, these are the only currently available recordings of either.
The disc begins with a recently discovered overture from some incidental music Sgambati wrote in 1866 for Pietro Cossa's (1830-1880) drama about the great medieval Italian politician and leader Cola di Rienzo (1313-1354). And yes, he's the same historical figure that inspired Wagner's (1813-1883) opera Rienzi of 1840.
Lasting almost twenty minutes this hybrid concert-overture-tone-poem [T-1] shows the influence of the composer's years in Germany, where he was a student of Liszt (1811-1886), and highly regarded by Wagner (1813-1883). The ominous beginning [00:02] introduces some cellular motifs that quickly come to a developmental boil [03:07] somewhat reminiscent of Weber's (1786-1826) overture to Die Freischütz (1817-21). The music then transitions into a central episode [05:33] where a couple of attractive melodic passages alternate with more dramatic ones.
A Lisztian introspection characterizes the work's final moments [12:37]. There is one short-lived joyful outburst [14:36], but this transitions into subdued passages that end the overture with nostalgic memories of its opening.
The first of Sgambati's two symphonies dating from 1880-81 follows. Atypically in five movements, it's an engaging combination of Italian wine in German bottles, and would become immediately popular with late nineteenth century European audiences. Championed by such great conductors of the day as Martucci and Toscanini (1867-1957), it would receive outstanding press from the likes of Grieg (1843-1907) as well as Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).
The opening allegro [T-2] begins with three brief ideas. These are subsequently developed in a modified version of sonata form that's a series of thematic transformations like those found in Liszt's symphonic poems. Highlights include a heroic variant [03:40] that adds a chauvinistic bent to the movement before it comes to a peaceful conclusion anticipating the following andante.
Here [T-3] mournful pleading outer sections bracket a lyrical beatific inner one where Italian avian twitters [03:35] decorate an underlying German chorale-like melody [03:57]. The overall effect is exceptionally moving, making this movement the symphony's emotional hub.
It's followed by a brilliantly scored scherzo [T-4] that owes a debt to Wagner, and presages young Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) lighter symphonic moments. Then we get an aria-like serenata [T-5] which follows a sad-blithe-sad emotional schema. It's a gorgeous piece of melodic writing with a lovely cantabile tune [03:06], and the most Latin-sounding part of the symphony.
The finale [T-6] begins with a boisterous fanfare followed by an ebullient valiant theme (EV) [00:26] that will become the main ingredient of this rondoesque conclusion. Here EV reappears in a variety of developmental guises interspersed with cyclic allusions to some of the work's earlier more memorable moments. The symphony then ends with a thrilling militaristic-sounding coda based on EV.
As was the case with Maestro La Vecchia and the RSO's earlier recordings of late-nineteen-early-twentieth-century Italian symphonic music recommended here (see 23 July 2010 and 17 August 2011), these performances are emotionally charged. There's an enthusiasm tempered with attention to rhythmic and dynamic detail that gives this forgotten music a new lease on life. Hopefully a recording of the second symphony will be forthcoming.
Made on separate occasions at the Via Conciliazione Auditorium in Rome, the recordings are quite consistent and project a moderately wide but deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The orchestral timbre is generally musical, but there is some digital grain in massed violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130112)
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Toch: Bunte Ste, Vars on Mozart's KV 455, Vc Conc; Soloists/Bruns/Ber ChS/LeipMend Cho [Delta]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Ernst Toch (1887-1964) was born into a Viennese Jewish family and would move to Germany in 1909 where he'd teach and become a leading contemporary composer. However, the rise of Nazism with its anti-Semitic policies forced him to flee in 1933 taking up exile in Paris and then London. Like Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968, see 31 May 2012), Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957, see 31 March 2011) and Alexander Tansman (1897-1986, see 25 May 2011), he finally wound up in California where he'd supplement his income by writing Hollywood film scores. This valuable release from Delta Classics gives us three of his concert works, each of which represents a different facet of his stylistic development.
The program begins with the world premiere recording of his Bunte Suite (Colorful Suite) written in 1928 for the Frankfurt Radio. With no underlying program except the titles accompanying each of its six movements, the work seems to fall into the category of "Gebrauchsmusik" ("utility music") so frequently associated with Hindemith (1895-1963).
A good example of Toch's neoclassical phase, there's a transparency as well as harmonic and rhythmic cheekiness making it a significant departure from the lush late romantic music of the time. The raucous opening march [T-1] smacks of saucy Stravinsky (1882-1971). While there's a detached wheeziness about the succeeding intermezzo, which is just for woodwinds [T-2], that may bring Milhaud (1892-1974) to mind.
Almost three times longer than any of the other sections, the following adagio for strings [T-3] is a gossamer utterance that hangs by a thread and then simply drifts away. It's the exact opposite of "Marionetten-Tanz" ("Puppet Dance") [T-4], which is a cacophonous cakewalk. Scored for brass with percussive accents it's somewhat in the spirit of Shostakovich's capricious (1906-1975) Tahiti Trot (1928).
Next up, a haunting passacaglia [T-5] with several spectral countermelodies made all the more spooky by some ectoplasmic contrapuntal devices. One of the themes is a revolving motif [02:57] that will power the closing "Karussell" ("Carousel”) movement [T-6], which is a kinetic flight of fancy again recalling Shostakovich's fanciful moments.
Some may find this and the preceding section bizarre forerunners of the final "carousel of death and remembrance" movement in Schnittke's (1934-1998) piano quintet (1972-76; later orchestrated as In Memoriam, 1978). It makes one wonder what was running through Toch's mind when he conjured up this eccentric suite.
The concert continues with another world premiere recording of a work that represents the composer's later more romantic style, and must rank among his most engaging! Completed in Los Angeles around 1953, it's an arrangement for piano and orchestra of Mozart's (1756-1791) ten keyboard Variations on "Unser dummer Pöbel meint" (KV 455, 1784) [T-7].
The subject theme is lifted from an aria in Gluck's (1714-1787) opera Die Pilger von Mekka (The Pilgrims to Mecca, c. 1763; no complete recording currently available), which apparently inspired the plot for Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, KV 384, 1782). As a matter of fact it's sung by the same Osmin character who’d later appear in the Mozart opera (see the Liebermann recommendation above).
The Toch begins with the "Unser dummer..." theme (UD) in the orchestra [00:00], and will have some listeners saying to themselves, "But that's Tchaikovsky!" Well yes and no, because Peter Ilyich (1840-1893) also orchestrated the piece as the final movement of his Mozartiana Suite (No. 4, 1887).
The pianist then plays a giddy variant of it [00:43] with some effervescent tutti embellishments. The five transformations that follow are sequentially fluttering [02:06], marchlike [02:58], dyspeptic with droll dissonances [03:38], whimsical [04:49], and scampering [06:05].
The eighth variation, which is the longest of all, is a dramatic aria sung by the piano to a romantic orchestral accompaniment [07:15]. It's followed by a scurrying ninth [11:34] that's a nanoconcerto complete with a 6/4 chord, tiny piano cadenza [12:15] and final trill [13:08] introducing the last variation [13:13]. This builds to a triumphant restatement of UD, ending the piece joyously and making it an instant crowd-pleaser.
The final selection is the cello concerto of 1924, which is a product of Toch’s earlier avant-garde years in Germany, and the most progressive piece here. In four movements the initial allegro [T-8] stands out for its atonal-sounding opening measures and overall neoclassical severity. Also it’s based on cellular motifs rather than those opulent themes that typified the late romantic music being written then.
It begins with a four-note rhythmic riff (FR) [00:01] followed by a clutch of brief ideas that undergo a rigorous pragmatic development. The cello usually appears in dialogue with the orchestra, and has only a couple of demanding solos. The movement ends mysteriously with insistent reminders of FR and a strange hushed note on the tubular chimes.
The indifference characterizing the first movement is offset by the mischievousness of the brief agitato, and dark drama pervading the following adagio. The latter is an agonized impassioned lament sung by the cello to a despairing tutti accompaniment. But the mood lightens in the animated final allegro, which bristles with more rhythmic riffs, and ends with the orchestra chasing the soloist out the back door.
Toch's intricate scores demand careful attention to rhythmic as well as dynamic details, and Jürgen Bruns, who's our conductor for all three works, certainly has the measure of them. He gets superb performances of the suite as well as the variations from the Berlin Chamber Symphony with pianist Tatjana Blome delivering a magnificent account of the latter. The same can be said of the Leipzig Mendelssohn Chamber Orchestra and cellist Peter Bruns in the concerto.
The recordings were made on three separate occasions between 2009 and 2011 with the variations and concerto taken from live performances. But skillful touch-up work and editing have eliminated any extraneous sounds or applause except for some minor keyboard action thumps in the variations.
The suite and variations were done at one of Germany's legendary recording venues, the Jesus-Christus-Kirche in Berlin. They're spread across a wide detailed soundstage of considerable depth in richly ambient surroundings that should appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The concerto, which was taped in the Mendelssohn-Saal of the Gewandhaus, Leipzig, is in a slightly less reverberant acoustic and sounds closer as well as more focused.
The orchestral timbre in all three works is musical with highs on the glassy side and clean bass. Both soloists are well captured in natural sound and ideally balanced against their respective orchestras.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130111)
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