CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
25 FEBRUARY 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.
Bax: Va Phant (w Harvey, Holland, Vaughan Williams); Chase/Bell/Harvey/BBCCon O [Dutton]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Last summer we told you about some English music featuring the viola (see 27 August 2012), and here's more of the same but with orchestra instead of piano. Incidentally, two of the four works presented here are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The program gets underway with Sir Arnold Bax's (1883-1953, see 29 June 2010) Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra of 1920. In three linked movements it's a tuneful rhapsody based on Irish folk songs and dances. The first movement [T-1] begins with a five-note orchestral flourish (FN) [00:01] succeeded by a cadenza for the viola with aspects of a Hibernian caoine (IC) [00:03], or funeral song. The pace soon quickens with an infectious march-like idea [01:52] that's elaborated and followed by a rising amorous countermelody (RA) [04:24].
A heroic developmental episode complete with trumpet fanfare follows, and the music gradually subsides into the next lento [T-2]. Here Sir Arnold borrows a melody from another Irish folk ditty, which he actually notes in the score as "A chailín donn deas..." ("The Brown-haired Girl..."). A rapturous extension of it comes next, and then a melancholy reminder of IC on the cor anglais [03:58] that's a bit reminiscent of the shepherd's pipe passage in Wagner's (1813-1883) Tristan and Isolde (1857-9).
The tutti then comment on the preceding woodwind solo, and via a modulatory bridge introduce the final spirited allegro [T-3]. This begins with a lively Irish jig danced by soloist and orchestra, a winsome romantic second subject [01:07], and hints of FN [02:58]. The foot-tapping development that's next has more reminders of FN [03:48] as well as RA [03:54] and IC [05:14]. It ends in a manic coda, bringing the phantasy to an exuberant close.
The concert continues with another of Theodore Holland's (1878-1947) viola works (see 27 August 2012), his Ellingham Marshes (c. 1940; WPR) [T-4]. This is a subtle pastoral tone painting, which the composer said was the product of a sketching holiday in East Anglia (see 21 September 2011), and meant to limn the dreamy wistful atmosphere of the Suffolk marshes.
It opens with soft strings and woodwinds [00:02] suggesting early morning mists and bird calls. Ascending passages for soloist and orchestra suggest daybreak with the first rays of sunshine breaking through the gloom [05:20]. A lovely diurnal rhapsody follows ending with harp glissandi [07:26] and a viola cadenza. This becomes soulful leading to a resumption of the opening mood [09:36] with a dramatic recollection of sunnier times [10:29]. Then after another subdued cadenza [11:40], the work ends in the same spirit it began, conjuring up cool enveloping evening mists [13:01] and more birdies [13:56].
Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) Suite for Viola and Small Orchestra is next and dates from 1933-4. Comprised of eight selections, there are moments for the soloist in the opening Prelude reminiscent of J.S. Bach’s (1685-1750) cello suites (1717-23). The devout Carol and festive Christmas Dance that follow remind one of VW's many beloved yuletide offerings (see 20 November 2006).
Next up, a beautiful Ballad which is a miniature Lark Ascending for viola. It's the longest piece here and many may find it the suite's high point. Then grace turns to virtuosic showmanship in the following Moto perpetuo that takes its cue from the likes of Paganini (1782-1840).
The suite concludes with three dances recalling VW's abiding fascination with folk music. The first, a Musette, is a celesta-sequined celestial pavane that could pass for a lullaby. But the pace quickens with Polka mélancolique, which is more wayward than melancholy, and a spiky Galop that ends the suite with a Vesuvius Fountain of viola fireworks.
Richard Harvey's (b. 1953) Reflections for Viola and Small Orchestra (1990, revised 2012; WPR) fills out the disc. The composer tells us in his album notes that it incorporates bits of his TV music, which might explain some of the more dramatic moments. The first of its four sections, Awakening [T-13], opens eerily with the soloist spinning out a detached melody over a mysterious tutti accompaniment. A comely heroic idea follows, is elaborated, and the section ends with an introspective viola-dominated coda, setting the tone for the following Shadowplay [T-14].
This is subdued, chromatically shifty, and has some string pizzicato vaguely reminiscent of Hovhaness' (1911-2000) Mysterious Mountain (Symphony No. 2, 1955). It anticipates the ominous orchestral opening of Borderlands [T-15], which soon perks up, giving way to a couple of rapturous viola passages. Then we get an expansive melody [03:12] from the tutti followed by a related cowboy-like tune [04:04]. The latter repeats in rondo fashion with skittering viola decorations, and the section ends explosively.
The final "Remembrance" [T-16] is a touching memorial to one of the composer's late friends, and also lives up to its name by recalling past themes. It gives the suite structural as well as emotional closure, and leaves one feeling Harvey has made a significant contribution to the body of contemporary works for viola and orchestra.
As on their previous superlative Dutton release (see 18 February 2009) soloist Roger Chase and the BBC Concert Orchestra (BBCO) give us magnificent performances of all four pieces. Mr. Chase plays the Montagnana viola that once belonged to the legendary Lionel Tertis (1876-1975), and delivers perfectly intoned, loving accounts of this music for the most amorous of stringed instruments. The BBCO is under Stephen Bell for the first three selections, and directed by Richard Harvey in the last, where he wears two hats as composer and conductor.
Made in association with BBC Radio 3 and the BBCO at Colosseum Town Hall, Watford, England, and engineered by the same personnel as the earlier disc mentioned above, these recordings surpass the ones on that. They project a generous clearly focused soundstage in an appropriately rich acoustic with an ideal balance between soloist and orchestra. Mr. Chase's magnificent Montagnana sounds lush and lustrous, while the orchestral timbre is pleasing with crystalline highs, a musical midrange, and clean lows. Romantics and audiophiles will definitely want this!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130225)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Lee, T.O.; 6 Concs (fl, hp, vn, pno, ob & vc respectively);
Soloists/Rose/BosMOP O [BMOP/s]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
Moravec: Northern…, Cl Conc, Sempre…, Montserrat (Vc Conc);
Soloists/Rose/BosMOP O [BMOP/s]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
With these two recent releases from BMOP/sound we get an attractive bouquet of concertos from a couple of America's most highly regarded contemporary composers, Thomas Oboe Lee (b. 1945) and Paul Moravec (b. 1957, see below). Lee was born in China but left there with his family in 1949, spending ten years in Hong Kong and another six in Brazil. He then emigrated to the United States in 1966, where he pursued extensive musical studies, graduating from Harvard in 1981. He's received a number of outstanding awards, and now teaches at Boston College.
The album pictured above and to the left includes two discs devoted to six of his concertos, beginning with Flauta Carioca of 2000 for flute. In three movements it reflects the composer's Brazilian years with catchy rhythms like those that had infected Darius Milhaud (1892-1974, see 19 December 2011) when he was a French attaché in Rio de Janeiro (1917-9). The initial "Chôros vivo!!!" ("Loud Cries!!!") starts with an orchestral flourish and an antic flute melody, after which it chugs along like the "The Little Train of Caipira" (Bachianas Brasileiras No. 2, 1930) being pulled by The Little Engine that Could.
The second movement marked "Bossa nova" is melodically mesmerizing with accents on woodblocks. The final "Pastorale - Forró" opens slowly, comes to a complete halt, and then goes into an animated Brazilian dance with a jazzy flute line and more knocks on blocks.
The next selection is a concerto for harp entitled ... bisbigliando ... (2009), which refers to the soft tremolo produced on that instrument by rapid back-and-forth motions of the fingers. In three movements, the first is dominated by minimalistic repeated harp motifs over an alternately lyrical and prickly orchestral accompaniment with more woodblock accents.
The middle one is a moving lamentation for orchestra embroidered by the soloist, and may bring Gliere's (1875-1956) harp concerto (1938) to mind. In the flighty finale, one can imagine the harp as a moth hovering around and getting caught in a flickering orchestral candle flame. Once again there's more woodblock, and what the piece may lack in profundity it makes up for with immediate appeal.
The first Lee disc is filled out with his violin concerto of 2009 which abandons the "New World" for the "Old", and is in two movements simply designated "Part I" and "Part II." The opening one [T-7] has a slow rapturous introduction smacking of Sibelius (1865-1957) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949). This suddenly turns nervously animated with a virtuosic display from the soloist set against a colorful accompaniment having a catchy recurring five-note motif (RF) [07:19]. The movement is sometimes reminiscent of Prokofiev (1891-1953), and ends perfunctorily with a final reference to RF.
The second part [D-1, T-8] begins nostalgically in the orchestra with the violin rising out of its depths to deliver a soaring bravura commentary over passages again of Straussian persuasion. After a brief pause the mood becomes vivacious [08:36] with some fireworks from the fiddle and a lupine tutti snapping at its heels. Then after a challenging final cadenza the concerto concludes with an infectious coda involving everyone.
The other CD in this album begins with a piano concerto called "Mozartiana", which is a name that's already popped up a couple of times in these pages (see 12 March 2009 and 16 January 2013). It gets its moniker from being based on some forgotten Mozart (1756-1791) fragments, and was written in 2007 for the soloist, who's the distinguished pianist and Mozart scholar, Harvard Professor Robert Levin (b. 1947).
In two movements, the first [D-2, T-1] opens slowly with the orchestra stating a lovely singing theme (LS) [00:09] set to a gently rocking keyboard accompaniment. The piano then picks up on LS, and a developmental reverie follows. This becomes increasingly aggressive [04:52] with soloist and tutti entering into a march-like passage based on LS that ends the movement uneventfully.
The concluding one [D-2, T-2] begins quietly with delicate trill-adorned piano passages over a yearning accompaniment. The piano part becomes more legato sans trills [02:48], and a rapturous episode follows. It ends with repeated chords in the orchestra and a short piano passage [06:34] that bridges into a final rondo [07:13]. Here pianist and tutti chase each other around in a frenetic tarantella that turns into a courtly dance [09:01]. This gives way to a thrilling ad libitum cadenza by Dr. Levin [10:27], where he shows off his exceptional improvisatory skills. The orchestra then joins the soloist to end the concerto in high spirits.
The two concerti filling out this disc are based on Greek mythology, and Lee tells us they both double as tone poems. The first known as Persephone and the Four Seasons (2006) is for oboe. It takes as its subject the goddess who was abducted by Hades, the god-king of the underworld, and became his queen (see 21 September 2011). She also had agricultural associations, and consequently Lee has cast the concerto in four movements each representing an imagined seasonal aspect to the myth surrounding her.
The opening one titled "Summer (Persephone Dances)" begins with a doleful theme for the soloist who's soon joined by the orchestra. After a brief pause, the oboe introduces a perky piquant dance tune that's tossed back and forth between soloist and tutti. With only a couple of pensive passages for the oboe in the following scherzoesque "Autumn (The Abduction of Persephone)," it becomes subservient to a menacing snare drum and its fellow winds.
But it once again dominates the concluding "Winter (Persephone's Soliloquy)" and "Spring (Persephone's Dances Joyously)." The soloist delivers a winsome sinuous extended song to a hiemal orchestral accompaniment in the former, and a challenging cadenza in the latter, which ends the piece recalling Persephone's initial dance.
The final concerto billed as "Eurydice ... A Tone Poem for Cello and Orchestra" (1995) is in four movements like its predecessor, but based on the Orpheus legend and the most progressive piece here. The initial "Orpheus weeps" opens with pounding drums of grief, and a sustained orchestral chord over which the cello intones a lament. A mournful, overwhelming timpani-accented exchange between soloist and tutti fills out the movement ending it in an anguished cadenza over a drumroll pedal point.
The next "Orpheus's resolve" opens with a heady theme for the cello followed by another thunderous orchestral outburst. A frenetic virtuosic exchange between soloist and tutti ensues with a couple of introspective moments before the movement ends indecisively.
The following "Orpheus and Eurydice" begins as a love duet in which the cello and winds, particularly the oboe (shades of Persephone... above), presumably represent the respective lovers. But Lee hints at the fate awaiting them, concluding the movement with an anguished cello cadenza and another tragic eruption from the orchestra. The final "Orpheus's apotheosis" ends this concerto-tone-poem with a dirge for cello and a dissonant tutti shriek of agony.
Pianist Robert Levin (see above) will be known to most but not the other soloists, flutist Sarah Brady, harpist Ina Zdorovetchi, violinist Irina Muresanu, oboist Jennifer Slowik and cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer. All six are superb, delivering performances that are not only technically perfect proving each a virtuoso in their own right, but totally committed. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project under their founder and conductor Gil Rose provide them with ideal support making them shine all the brighter.
The recordings were done at the identical locations and around the same time as those on the Moravec disc discussed next. Accordingly please see that recommendation for comments regarding the sound.
The album pictured above and to the right expands BMOP/sound's coverage of contemporary American concertos with music by Paul Moravec. Like Lee he has an equally distinguished academic background that also includes a degree from Harvard. The recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including a 2004 "Pulitzer Prize" for his Tempest Fantasy (2002, see 7 April 2007), he's currently a professor at Adelphi University in New York.
This disc gives us two more concertos along with a couple of symphonic impressions, and begins with one of the latter entitled Northern Lights Electric [T-1]. Originally an octet dating from 1992, Moravec would orchestrate it in 2000, giving us the version here. Inspired by an impressive display of the aurora borealis seen during a nighttime stroll, where the only sound was the hum of a nearby streetlight, the composer says it perhaps suggests a combination of the ethereal and earthly.
It opens with pianissimo rising passages that suddenly burst into the musical equivalent of those colorful dancing sheets of light that make this natural phenomenon so breathtaking. The orchestral texture ebbs and flows with the tempo accelerating into a lovely melodic episode followed by a brief pause.
Then this sonic light show really takes off [06:01] as the music turns chromatically kinetic, only to become momentarily chorale-like implying wonderment at what's just been seen by the ear [09:44-11:05]. But more is to come as the preceding colorific frenzy resumes [11:06], ending the piece in a state of bedazzlement.
The concerto that's next is a follow-on to the Tempest Fantasy mentioned above, and like that, it was written for clarinetist David Krakauer, who's our soloist. Dating from 2008 and in three movements, it's scored for an orchestra of just strings to insure soloist and tutti stand out from one another as much as possible.
The initial "Lively" [T-2] begins in the barnyard with the some pecking pizzicato strings. The clarinet soon enters playing a cheeky theme with virtuosic excursions that range far and wide over a rhythmically catchy, attractively tuneful accompaniment. There's an innocence and lightness of touch somewhat reminiscent of Prokofiev's Classical Symphony (No. 1, 1916-7).
The movement quits unceremoniously, and we get "Expressive, melancholic" [T-3] that's much as advertised. It opens with a laid-back wailing clarinet and weeping strings. The music then becomes excited and anxiety-ridden, only to fall back into another funk, ending the movement despairingly.
The final "Slow; Quick" [T-4] begins with soloist and tutti reassessing their past grief, and casting it aside in favor of a carefree romp. With frequent virtuosic shrieks of joy from the clarinet, the concerto concludes in the same spirit it began.
A symphonic impression that's meant to be an excursion through Venice comes next [T-5]. Scored for strings, two oboes and a couple of horns, it's titled Sempre Diritto! (1992), which is Italian for "straight ahead," and apparently the cheery hackneyed response one often gets when asking directions in Italy.
It opens with a subdued searching theme where it's easy to imagine a tourist who's lost his way on one of those circuitous Venetian streets. Using some mind-numbing Minimalistic repetition, the composer creates a musical image of our visitor's growing frustration with his surroundings. But in the end he finds his way, and this unusual travelogue ends with some joyous fiddling.
The disc is filled out with another concerto, this time for cello. Called Montserrat (2001), it pays homage to the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals (1876-1976), and the mountain monastery by that name north of Barcelona where he spent many of his younger days. In one movement lasting a little over twenty minutes [T-6], it falls into five contiguous sections. The first opens with a three-note rising motif (TR) on the cello set to a reverential accompaniment with hints of church bells. A rapturous elaboration of TR follows where the music waxes and wanes dramatically in a series of romantic groundswells.
After a brief pause, we get a second section [05:41] with a short wistful introduction followed by a bubbly episode [06:24]. Here the soloist gets a chance to strut his stuff in front of a cheering tutti. The music then slows segueing into a third captivating hymnlike offering (CH) [09:41], which brings a sense of peace to the listener. Somewhat resembling Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) rhapsodic creations, it achieves celestial heights in the cello's extreme upper registers. However, heavenly bliss suddenly turns to earthly bustle in the next part [13:48], which is a dramatic virtuosic tour de force for soloist and orchestra.
The music then falls away to a pianissimo sustained note for cello and violins that prefaces the final section [18:06]. This is a serene nostalgic epilogue in much the same mood as CH but riddled with cyclic recollections of TR [18:10, 18:42, etc.]. The concerto closes with one last reference to TR on the cello, bringing this exceptional contemporary concerto full circle.
Clarinetist David Krakauer (see above) and cellist Matt Haimovitz are outstanding in the concertos, playing them with technical precision and boundless enthusiasm. As was the case with the Lee release above, the Boston Modern Orchestra Project under their founder and conductor Gil Rose couldn't be more supportive, and deliver spirited renditions of the two impressions.
The recordings on these albums were made between 2007 and 2010 in Jordan Hall, Boston and Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, which along with Symphony Hall, Boston are among the finest venues in the United States. The sound is amazingly consistent, and there's no sign of an audience.
The soundstages are impressively large, but remain well-focused in pleasingly reverberant acoustics, which enrich the music all the more. The balance between the various soloists and orchestra is generally good, but one could wish for a bit more highlighting of the piano in Mozartiana to better show off Dr. Levin's immaculate playing.
The orchestral timbre is musical with glassy highs, and an extremely clean low end. As for the solo instruments, the piano sounds a little veiled and occasionally grainy, but the others are well captured.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130224, P130223)
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Suppé: 8 Ovs, 3 Marches, Humorous Vars, Fatinitza Medley; N.Järvi/RScotNaO [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Remember that terrific Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) disc we told you about (see 31 July 2012)? Well Neeme Järvi, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and Chandos team-up once more to give us another spectacular hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), symphonic release. This time around the program includes some of the greatest warhorses ever written. There are also a couple of rarities in what must be the ultimate compendium of works by a composer whose full name is one for the record books!
Francesco Ezechiele Ermenegildo Cavaliere Suppé-Demelli, or Franz von Suppé (1819-1895), was born in what's now Croatia of an Italian-Belgian father and a Viennese mother. He'd spend his early years there, and one of his first teachers would be Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), who was also a distant relative. Then after the death of his father in 1835, he moved with his mother to Vienna, where he continued his musical studies. Incidentally one of his mentors was Simon Sechter (1788-1867), who also taught Schubert (1797-1828, see 22 March 2012) and Bruckner (1824-1896).
Franz began conducting in 1840, and from 1844 on composed music for some 30 operettas. They earned him the title of "The Viennese Offenbach" (Jacques Offenbach, 1819-1880), and are for the most part remembered today for their colorful overtures. What would those early Hollywood cartoonists have done without them!
The program opens with that perennial favorite from his operetta Leichte Kavallerie (Light Cavalry, 1866; currently unavailable on disc) [T-1], which some may recall was immortalized by Mickey Mouse in Symphony Hour (1942). Set on the plains of Hungary, which was known for its great horsemen, the work capitalized on Viennese fascination with the intriguing land of the gypsies to their east. In that regard, besides its opening clarion trumpet call to arms and final galloping charge, there's a lovely Magyar melody for the strings [04:00].
Two selections from Boccaccio (1878-9) follow. Considered by many his finest stage work, it's loosely based on the life of Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375). The overture [T-2] begins somewhat like Johann Strauss Jr.'s An der schönen, blauen Donau (Blue Danube Waltz, 1866). Some memorable ideas, one worthy of Rossini (1792-1868) [02:49], follow and are worked along with a catchy Suppé recurring rhythmic riff [04:24] into the body of this brilliantly scored curtain-raiser.
The triumphant march that ends the opera is next [T-3]. And along with the other marches here it shows Franz was in some respects an Austrian John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).
His Pique Dame (The Queen of Spades, 1864) [T-4] like Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) of 1890, was inspired by Pushkin’s (1799-1837) short story (1834), and the overture that follows [T-4] is one of Franz's best! It opens with a couple of delightful tunes spiked with forte chords. The pace then accelerates into excited snare-drum-prefaced passages [02:36] that give way to an innocent theme on the flutes [04:23]. A jittery variant of this [05:18] is the basis for the galloping final coda.
And now a little comic relief in the form of a piece called Humoristische Variationen (Humorous Variations, 1848) [T-5], whose main theme has an interesting genesis. It will remind many of the nursery tune "The Farmer in the Dell" that's set to a melody which may well have evolved from the 1777 song "A-Hunting We Will Go" by British composer Thomas Arne (1710-1778). The Arne later surfaced in Germany as a Fuchslied (fox-hunting song), and became a popular student ditty (PS), which Suppé takes as the subject for his piece. Incidentally, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), who greatly admired Franz, would later use PS in his Academic Festival Overture (1880).
After a deceptively pensive introduction we get PS [01:11] followed by nine transformations that are a marvel of variational concision. The first two [01:39 and 01:53] are frivolous frolics featuring the winds. Then come three which form a nanoscherzo with boisterous march-like outer sections (BM) [02:58 and 02:58] surrounding a tipsy central one [02:22].
Maybe the composer had a student drinking bout in mind considering we next get a hungover variant [03:11] with a brass and cello headache. But it would seem a little hair of the dog has restored the spirits in the whistling number [04:06] that follows and ends with a reminder of BM. PS then returns in waltz form to finish this delightful whimsy with a Viennese veneer.
Do you remember The Spinach Overture cartoon with "Popeye the Sailor Man" (1935)? It spoofs one of the best loved classical pieces ever written, the overture to Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant, 1846; opera not currently available on disc), which is next [T-6]. The reflective poetic opening features the brass and a lovely cello solo [01:01] strangely reminiscent of the melody for the American folk song "I've been Working on the Railroad."
Buzzing strings [03:45] then introduce an animated episode that's presumably the peasant section. This has an unforgettable two-part tune [04:25] which is elaborated and succeeded by a waltz [05:20]. Tidbits of the foregoing ideas are then cleverly manipulated, and the piece ends in a joyful frenzy. The melodic fluidity of Donizetti as well as the rhythmic impetus of a Rossini overture are much in evidence.
A change of pace follows with Marziale nach Motiven aus der Operette "Fatinitza", which is a short march medley from the operetta Fatinitza (1876) compiled by Max Schönherr (1903-1984) [T-7]. The setting is the Bulgarian front during the Russo-Turkish (Crimean) War of 1854-5, and accordingly it opens with martial brass calls. An Eastern strutting theme (ES) [00:22] having a passing resemblance to Beethoven's "Turkish March" from his incidental music for The Ruins of Athens (1811) follows. The music then builds to a suitably bellicose climax ending the piece in full-dress uniform.
The overture to the composer's last opera, Das Modell (The Model, 1895; not currently available on disc), which was never completed, is next [T-8]. It will probably be new to most, and adheres to the old tried-and-true Suppé formula of a slow start followed by some lovely tunes, which are the ingredients for an exciting development and manic finale. An antsy march [04:36] and blazing coda [05:27] end it on a real high.
The program continues with another rarity, the concert march titled Über Berg, über Thal (date unknown) [T-9]. The English translation of this is Over Hill, Over Dale, just like the first line of the old US Army “Caisson Song” (1908). However, the similarity ends there with the tune for the latter being an entirely different, but equally stirring march melody.
Then we get the overture to the comic opera Isabell (1869; currently unavailable on disc) [T-10], which again involves a military plot. It starts off excitedly with clacking castanets auguring the festive moments in Sir Arthur Sullivan's (1842-1900) music for The Gondoliers (1889). The tempo then slows and we get several attractive ideas interspersed with energetic outbursts. The overture ends in a spectacular coda [05:51] with brass flourishes, a glorious march fragment, and the inevitable final Suppé pyrotechnics.
Another old chestnut, the overture to the mythical comic operetta Die schöne Galathée (The Beautiful Galatea, 1865) receives a Järvi revitalization next [T-11]. Based on the ancient Greek Pygmalion legend, with a little stretch of the imagination you can think of Galatea as the nineteenth century equivalent of Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1956).
Both works are melodic gold mines, and several tuneful nuggets are to be found in Suppé's overture. It opens with a rousing can-can in the style of Offenbach (1819-1880) succeeded by a pulchritudinous episode having a beautiful melody probably representing Galatea [01:28]. A lively passage then hints at and bridges into a slow sweeping waltz (SS) [04:36]. The composer closes with a magnificent SS-based big tune coda that's been thrilling audiences ever since.
Like Fatinitza (see above), Donna Juanita (1880; currently unavailable on disc) has a battle-related scenario, but here the conflict is the Peninsular War (1808-14) in Spain. The high-stepping castanet-accented march from it that's served up next [T-12] is another rousing gem from the John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) of Austria.
But all good things must come to an end, and the program concludes with probably the most popular work Franz ever wrote, the overture from the incidental music for the play Ein Morgen, ein Mittag und ein Abend in Wien (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, 1844; currently unavailable on disc) [T-13]. A showpiece for conductors, who've even included Bugs Bunny, the commanding fortissimo opening (CF) instantly grabs one's attention. It also serves to highlight the following amorous section [00:42] with its gorgeous solo cello theme [00:47].
Then CF returns [03:30] and we get a couple of lively tunes [03:51 and 04:13] that anticipate the totally captivating runaway finale [04:32]. With more of those marvelous Suppé rhythmic riffs [05:20], this frequently sounds like music that would be ideally suited to A Day at the Races (1937) [04:55]. It ends this infectious disc in a state of hyper-jubilation.
As with his previous Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) release for Chandos (see 31 July 2012) septuagenerian Neeme Järvi (b. 1937) conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) with the zest of someone half his age. These electric performances set a new standard for everything on this imaginatively programmed disc.
Also made in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, with the same production staff and complement of microphones as before, the recordings once again project a wide, deep soundstage in all three play modes. The surrounding acoustic is comfortably reverberant on both stereo tracks, and places the listener in a virtual orchestra center seat on the multi-channel one.
As for the instrumental timbre, it's musical but like other RSNO productions done in this venue, there's occasional grain in massed high violin passages on the CD track. The midrange is lucid, and the bass well defined all the way down to rock bottom regardless of play mode.
This release is a must no matter how many recordings of the more familiar selections you have! And you can always minimize the expense by selling off all those old CDs this Chandos will undoubtedly supersede.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130222)
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