CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
28 APRIL 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.
Bacewicz: Vc Concs 1 & 2, Ov; Krzeszowiec/Koziak/Tchitchinadze/Wolinska/PolSinfaIuv O [DUX]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Polish-born Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) began her career as a concert violinist, but would later devote herself entirely to composition. She subsequently produced a significant number of works, which have been appearing with increasing frequency on silver disc. Consequently it's become quite apparent she was one of the twentieth century's leading composers.
Stringed instruments are featured in many of her pieces that include seven violin concertos, some of which we've already told you about (see 16 August 2011). Now DUX Records gives us this invaluable release with the only currently available recordings of her two cello concertos, as well as an earlier concert overture. You'll find these selections represent three different phases of her stylistic development.
The disc begins with the overture dating from 1943, which bears no further name. It's of fast-slow-fast Italian overture design with scampering outer sections akin to the opening of Alfredo Casella's (1883-1947) Paganiniana (1942). They surround a relaxed lyrical episode that may bring moments in Karol Szymanowski's (1882-1937) Concert Overture (1905) to mind. Although romantic in spirit, a rhythmic insistence pervades the Bacewicz giving it a neoclassical feel.
Completed in 1951, there's a greater harmonic adventurousness about the first cello concerto which makes it more of a modern undertaking. Generally speaking it’s in the same ballpark with the cello concertante works of Myaskovsky (1881-1950) and Prokofiev (1891-1953).
The allegro [T-2] has a couple of memorable ideas that are skillfully developed and recapitulated in sonata-form fashion. The soloist is given many opportunities, including a dramatic cadenza, to demonstrate his technical proficiency. Curiously enough there's a moment in the movement's closing measures [00:54] which seems to presage the finale of Medtner's (1880-1951) third piano concerto (1940-3).
In the next andante [T-3] the cello delivers a comely cantilena (CC) [00:25] to an amorous accompaniment. But this romantic offering is offset by the final allegro [T-4] where a catchy rhythmically prickly motif alternates with a CC-related nostalgic melody [02:01] in rondo fashion.
Although it's also in three movements, the second concerto of 1963 is considerably more stylistically advanced than its predecessor! Highly chromatic and rhythmically fickle, the composer's concern here is to create something having textural diversity rather than romantic appeal.
The first allegro marked "fantastico" lives up to its name right from the start with percussion-laced brass pronouncements, followed by a disembodied motif for the cello. An agitated exchange between soloist and tutti with bell and drum figurations follows. Sometimes subdued and at others aggressive, the movement ends abruptly leaving you on the edge of your seat.
There's something of Bartók's (1881-1945) Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta (1936) in the subdued adagio. Dissonant and tonally ambivalent with sighing glissandi, it ends in search of a final resting place with the listener wondering what to expect next. The answer comes in the form of another allegro with the kinetic energy of the first, but a whimsicality that makes it less intimidating despite its searing final chord. This colorful music bears repeated listening to be fully savored.
Drawn from the most talented students and recent graduates of Poland's music academies, the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra delivers polished energetic performances of all three selections. The same can be said for youthful cellists Adam Krzeszowiec in the first concerto and Bartosz Koziak, who plays the second. A big round of applause also goes to Georgian conductor George Tchtchinadze who directs the first two works, and Poland's Monika Wolinska for her articulate reading of the contentious second concerto.
The recordings were made between 21 March and 15 April 2012 in the Polish Radio's Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw. This is the same venue CPO used for the first three volumes of their Panufnik (1914-1991) orchestral series, which got audiophile ratings in these pages (see 25 May 2010). And so does this DUX, which like them projects a wide, deep soundstage in a warm ideally reverberant space.
Although the overall sound seems a tad veiled compared to CPO's, the instrumental timbre is extremely musical in all three pieces with a sparkling high end and lean clean bass. The soloists are convincingly captured and balanced against the orchestra in the concertos. Audiophiles, Bacewicz fans, and twentieth century music enthusiasts not acquainted with her music should strongly consider this release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130428)
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Freitas, F. de: Dança da Menina..., O Muro do..., Medieval Ste, Ribatejo; Cassuto/RScotNa O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Not to be confused with Portuguese composer Luis de Freitas Branco (1890-1955, see 22 November 2011), this new disc of discovery from Naxos will introduce you to some orchestral fare by his younger compatriot Frederico de Freitas (1902-1980). One of Portugal's most important conductors and prolific twentieth century composers, Frederico wrote in all genres, but many of his best-loved works were balletic and owe a great deal to Portuguese folklore.
The four selections here were either originally conceived as ballets or eventually performed as such, and these are the only currently available recordings of them on disc. The concert begins with his most popular work, Dança da Menina Tonta (The Silly Girl's Dance) of 1941 [T-1]. It has a simple scenario about a shy village maid who does a "silly" dance to hide her timidity, only to emerge as the town beauty queen.
In twelve folkish, colorfully orchestrated sections lasting a little over twenty minutes, it starts with a whirling number. This gives way to a woodwind-dominated section with a prominent piccolo part that may bring Walter Piston's (1894-1976) The Incredible Flutist (1938) to mind.
Several animated dances of Iberian rhythmic persuasion, which at times have the impishness of Walton's (1902-1983) Facade (1926-38), follow. Other highlights include some featherlight passages where it's easy to imagine some en pointe work, and a stirring farandole [15:26] ŕ la Bizet (1838-1875).
The pace quickens towards the end, and the ballet concludes with several perky folk-sounding tunes [beginning at 17:40], one of which [19:19] strangely enough augurs Jerome Moross' (1913-1983) film score for The Big Country (1958). These are worked into a final animated dance sequence ending this choreographic find exuberantly.
Another ballet called O Muro do Derrete (The Wall of Love, 1940) follows [T-2]. According to the informative album notes by our conductor, Portuguese-born Álvaro Cassuto, it's based on an event that takes place annually in a village near Lisbon, where local girls and boys gather around a churchyard wall to court one another.
The concert version of the stage work done here falls generally into eight sections. The opening one contrasts coquettish passages presumably representing the girls [00:34] with macho ones for the boys [00:57]. It gives way to a second animated number [01:44] where it's easy to imagine the dancers spinning about. The third [03:33] and fourth [04:59] sections seem derived from Iberian folk sources with the fifth [06:31] being a colorful set of variations derived from the main idea in its predecessor.
Then a big waltz breaks out [08:29] where Ravel (1875-1937) is not too far away. This suddenly transitions via five forte chords into a rapturous penultimate seventh episode [09:15] having winsome solos for clarinet, horn and flute respectively. But puppy love is the order of the day here and in the final joyful ensemble number [12:17], where it’s easy to imagine happy couples cavorting about.
Freitas tells us the melodic and rhythmic structure of the much later Medieval Suite (1958) that's next were inspired by medieval Portuguese poetry. Accordingly each of its six charming subtitled movements is for the most part monothematic and modal-sounding; however, there's also a twentieth century harmonic adventurousness present.
The first Bailia (Ball) [T-3] is a catchy syncopated dance with some horn calls that may bring Weber (1786-1826) to mind. A nocturnal flute-swept threnody to unrequited love called Serena (Night Serenade) [T-4] follows. Then we get the innocent Serranilha (Mountain Range) [T-5], which could be a peasant tune from a village in Portugal's Serra da Estrela mountains.
The next two movements, Cantar de Amigo (A Friend's Song) [T-6] and Cantarcilho (Cantar) [T-7] are gorgeous instrumental tapestries woven predominantly from harp, woodwind and string thread. But not one to wax overly romantic, Frederico concludes this antique suite with a Jogralesca (Jester's Dance).
Here the addition of percussion, which includes a scintillating celesta, and the return of the horns augmented with some trumpet flourishes make this one of Freitas' most imaginatively scored movements. It ends the suite energetically, imparting an endearing rustic charm that gives it great appeal.
The concert concludes with the symphonic poem Ribatejo from 1938 [T-9] named for a province along the Tagus River northeast of Lisbon. The region is famous for fiestas and bullfighting, which are reflected in this lively musical essay.
In three interlinked spans lasting about eight minutes, the opening and closing ones [00:00 and 06:28] are based on a festive mariachi-like canzonet stated at the outset. They surround a moving orison [03:33-06:27] that brings to mind the supernal moments in Turina's (1882-1949) La Oración del Torero (The Bullfighter's Prayer, 1925).
Again at the helm of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Maestro Cassuto continues his survey of twentieth century Portuguese music with the same enthusiasm and attention to detail as on his previous Naxos release in this series (see 20 June 2012). He makes a convincing case for these little-known works, which in lesser hands might come off as more ordinary fare. That's particularly true of the suite, whose subtle chromatic and rhythmic shadings require a conductor with an inbred feeling for this delicate score.
Made in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, the recordings present a wide, deep soundstage that's a bit awash in the reverberant surroundings. Accordingly the violins seem a bit lost, while the overall instrumental timbre is characterized by somewhat brittle highs, and lean but clean bass. Although a "DDD" disc, curiously enough there's a momentary pitch discrepancy in the third movement of the suite [T-5, 02:59-03:07] that harkens back to the days of analogue tapes.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130427)
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Frid, Géza: Stg Qts 1, 2 "Fugues", 3 "Fant tropica" & 4; Amaryllis Qt [Coviello Cl]
Those liking the string quartets of Bartók (1881-1945) and Kodály (1882-1967) will be delighted to discover Géza Frid's (1904-1989). Born to Jewish parents in a part of Hungary that's now Romanian, he was a Wunderkind pianist who gave his first public performance at age six. His family then moved to Budapest in 1912, where he studied piano and composition with both of the former composers.
He graduated in 1924, which also saw the death of his father and rise of fascism throughout Hungary. This eventually resulted in his fleeing to the Netherlands in 1927, where he established himself as an internationally acclaimed pianist. He then decided to take up permanent residence there in 1929.
Bad idea! The sweeping tide of anti-Semitism culminating in the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands (1940-5) during World War II (1939-45) brought his career to a screeching halt. Incidentally, like Dutch composer Jan van Gilse (1881-1944, see 7 November 2012) he was also a valued member of the resistance.
After the liberation of Europe he certainly made up for lost time by concertizing globally. As a consequence Frid become a widely known, highly honored artist, and in 1990 he was posthumously awarded the Béla Bartók Prize for his life's work.
The first four of his five string quartets are included on this new Coviello Classics release, beginning with his initial effort of 1926. Composed right after he completed his studies in Budapest, Kodály much admired this four movement work, which is a winning mixture of impressionistic and Hungarian folk influences. The opening tranquillo [T-1] begins with a couple of contrapuntally-spiced searching motifs that undergo an agitated development. The recap that follows ends the movement much like it began with more questions than answers.
A fleeting scherzo [T-2] is next and quite Eastern-sounding with a catchy sighing folkish ditty [01:27]. While the intense sobbing lento [T-3] features some virtuosic passages [01:29] like what you might hear played by the primas of some Gypsy band in a Budapest restaurant.
The mood turns mischievous in the delightful final allegro [T-4], which is loaded with folk fragments whipped up into a Magyar medley that's bound to please. Kodaly's Dances of Marosszék (1927) and Galánta (1933) come to mind, and there are some elastic glissandi [02:39] as well as percussive pizzicati that lighten the music. A brief remembrance of the lento [05:16] surfaces just before the quartet ends in a bravura shower of sparks.
It would be thirteen years before Géza would finish his second quartet (1939). Entitled "Fugues", each of its six movements has fugal associations, and could collectively be considered a theme with variations.
We first hear the antsy main subject in the pizzicato first movement [T-5]. It's then somewhat lyricized in the con arco second [T-6], and takes on a folkish quality
Buzzing trills and swooping glissandi give the third [T-7] an entomological character, while there's a formality about the fourth [T-8] reminiscent of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) violin sonatas and partitas (1720). The fifth [T-9] is an otherworldly intermezzo with circuitous canonic allusions [02:47], and then Frid pulls out all the contrapuntal stops in the hyperactive finale [T-10].
It’s the longest movement here and in modified sonata form with complex fugal developmental episodes having a couple of dramatic climaxes. The last of these ends with more glissandi followed by a flurry of notes that dramatically dissipate, leaving the quartet suspended in midair.
The composer's postwar worldwide concertizing included a tour of Indonesia in 1949, where he was taken with the exotic climate, flora and fauna of the tropics. This was the inspiration for the third quartet known as "Fantasia tropica' (1949). In four movements each subtitled for a time of the day, the outer ones [T-11 and 14] are identical prestos labeled "La sera" ("Evening"). Both of these begin with a repeated fateful four-note motif (RF) [00:00] ending in another of those Frid glissandi. They’re then filled out with a nervous episode followed by a subdued lyrical passage.
The first "La sera" bridges directly into "La notte" ("Night") [T-12], which starts pensively but soon suggests the presence of a pesky mosquito. It ends with references to RF, which also serves as the beginning for the third "Il giorno" ("Day") [T-13]. An intense virtuosic exercise, we're told this as well as the previous movement quote Indonesian folk tunes, which would certainly seem to be the case at one point [T-13, 03:22]. The final "La sera" then follows [T-14], ending the quartet blissfully.
The disc closes with the fourth quartet, which is a transcription the composer made in 1956 of his violin sonata from 1955. In three movements, the first opens reservedly [T-15], but soon turns into a bravura display with occasional mysterious moments. Marked "Quasi improvisando," there's an extemporaneous air about it recalling Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Capriccio espagnol (1887).
The grief-stricken, modally tinged andante [T-16] has all the gravitas of a Bulgarian lament. But the outlook brightens with the whimsical concluding presto [T-17]. Tzigane flourishes give this a Hungarian slant, and there's a repeated four-note riff [00:43] reminiscent of the "DSCH" (D-Eb-C-B) musical monogram Shostakovich so often used (see the newsletter of 30 September 2012). It ends the quartet with a devil-may-care feeling reinforced by a final in-your-face cadence.
The German-Swiss Amaryllis Quartet makes its CLOFO debut here and none too soon! They're a magnificent discovery as is the program material, which we're told reflects their propensity to ferret out forgotten masterworks. The technical mastery displayed by each of the quartet's members is only surpassed by their collective insightful readings of these rarities. Géza Frid couldn't have better advocates!
Made at the Interfaith House of Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, the quartet is conventionally positioned with the violins on the left, and viola and cello to the right in a reverberant acoustic. The recordings present them across a wide soundstage, which depending on your speaker placement, some may feel has a center gap. The string tone is generally natural, but with highs on the bright side.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130426)
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Higdon: Exaltation..., Scenes fm the Poet's Dreams, Light...; Graffman/Palmer/McMillen/Lark Qt [Bridge]
A couple of years ago we told you about a "three-star" Bridge chamber music CD devoted to works by Lawrence Dillon (b. 1959, see 10 March 2011). Now they give us an engaging follow-on with selections by his contemporary compatriot, Pulitzer-prize winner Jennifer Higdon (b. 1962). One of America's most gifted woman composers, she makes a long overdue reappearance on CLOFO (see the newsletter of 15 May 2008) with this disc featuring three of her most inventive chamber pieces. These are the only currently available commercial recordings of them on disc.
The program begins with her string quartet of 2005 entitled "An Exaltation of Larks," performed here appropriately enough by the Lark Quartet. It's in one movement [T-1] and falls generally into four arches, the first of which opens with birdsong motifs [00:02]. These are followed by a virtuosic twittering development that has moments of Haydn (1732-1809) and Franck (1822-1890), as well as an infectious nursery-tune-like ditty (IN) [03:55].
After a brief pause we get a subdued arch [04:51], where larks glide and soar on gentle updrafts. The music then becomes highly agitated in a chromatically sonorous section [10:19] with hints of IN. These bridge into the final arch [13:59], which is a relaxed downward-spiraling episode that with a nod to Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) might be called "The Lark Descending." Then the piece concludes with a thrilling bravura coda [15:10] in keeping with its title.
Back in 1977 renowned pianist Gary Graffman (b. 1928) injured his right hand, which ultimately resulted in his only being able to play with his left. Consequently like Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein (1887-1961, see 20 June 2012), who lost his right arm in the First World War (1914-18), he was the motivating force behind a number of additional left-handed piano works. These include the quintet "Scenes from the Poet's Dreams" (1999) written for him and the Lark Quartet, who perform it next.
In five fanciful dream movements, the first titled "Racing Through Stars" [T-2] has the spaceship Graffman with all four Larks aboard speeding through the star-studded twelve known major keys of the universe. But the pace slows in the lovely vitreous twilight of "Summer Shimmers Across the Glass of Green Ponds" [T-3], only to turn frenetically entomological with "I Saw the Electric Insects Coming" [T-4]. Bizarrely instrumented, it's easy to believe Jennifer when she tells us it hides a tribute to American composer George Crumb (b. 1929).
The piece closes with "In the Blue Fields They Sing" [T-5] and "The Fast Dancers Dance Faster" [T-6]. The composer says the blissfully rhapsodic former is a possible vision of Heaven, while the latter finds Gary doing a deranged tarantella with each of the "Larkettes." It gives them all a last chance to show off their technical prowess, and concludes this “opus sinistrus” on a manic note.
The concert ends with Light Refracted (2002), which many may consider one of Ms. Higdon's most inspired chamber creations to date. A quintet for clarinet, violin, viola, cello and piano, Gary along with second violinist Basia Danilow exit stage left for a short beer, while the remaining Larks are joined by clarinetist Todd Palmer and pianist Blair McMillen.
In two movements, Jennifer tells us the first entitled "Inward' [T-7] utilizes elements from her earlier tone poem Blue Cathedral (1999), which seem to translate well into this rapturous luminescent opening. There's also a celestiality recalling the "...Blue Fields..." section of the previous work. While the final "Outward" [T-8], which is a scurrying exercise at times reminiscent of those "...Electric Insects..." above, ends the piece with some virtuosic pyrotechnics for everyone.
The Lark Quartet's technically consummate, sensitive playing and rich ensemble sound guarantee performances that are beyond reproach! Not only that, Gary Graffman once again shows what a magnificent pianist he is even with one hand tied behind his back, while clarinetist Todd Palmer favors us with some beautifully liquescent playing throughout "Inward."
Finally pianist Blair McMillen gets a big hand for his invaluable contribution to the last selection. All together these artists give us what will be definitive renditions of these works for some time to come.
Like the Dillon these recordings were made at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City. An ideal chamber venue, they accordingly project a perfectly proportioned, well-focused soundstage in warmly reverberant surroundings. The balance between the instruments is just right, and the string tone natural, but more shrill than the earlier Bridge release. The piano is realistically captured with analogue musicality in the last two selections.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130425)
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Mann, G.H.: Cl Conc, Vn Conc, Festival Prel, Ste 3 (orch); Bäumer/Osnabr SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Having just finished a series of CDs devoted to Jan van Gilse's (1881-1944) completed symphonies (see 7 November 2012), CPO now gives us another Dutch treat with the only currently available recordings of four orchestral works by his earlier compatriot Gottfried Hendrik Mann (1858-1904). Jan was German-trained and his music accordingly shows it, but there's a relaxed lyrical feeling about Gottfried's that's very French.
This is probably explained by Mann's having only studied in the Netherlands, and an extended trip he took to Paris in 1879 where he met Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Delibes (1836-1891) and Massenet (1839-1909, see 15 January 2008). We know Gottfried was particularly taken with the music of the latter, and even dedicated his only symphony of 1884 to him.
The Festival Prelude of 1890 that begins the disc [T-1] falls is into three contiguous parts, and opens with an attractive introduction [00:02] based on a melody Saint-Saëns might have written. It's followed by a more stately section [02:58], which could be a first cousin to one of Elgar's (1857-1934) marches. The third and final part [07:36] ends the prelude with a jubilant big tune reprise of previous ideas.
Composed between 1880 and 1885, the three-movement clarinet concerto is a real discovery. The first allegro[T-2] alternates urgent virtuosic episodes that include a challenging cadenza with restrained ones worthy of Massenet. The last of these [06:53] transitions effortlessly via some gorgeous mellifluous clarinet passages into the next movement [T-3], which is a soothing intermezzo of French rather than German persuasion.
Ethnically speaking, Mann strays even further afield with a Slavic-tinged finale modeled on a polonaise [T-4]. Bravura writing for the soloist that includes another demanding cadenza, and some foot-tapping accompaniment from the orchestra end the work joyfully.
The concerto for violin that's next dates from 1901, and like the preceding work there are three movements where the first two are connected. It opens tragically [T-5] with morose woodwind solos soon followed by melancholy passages for the violin. The tempo then quickens with some fireworks for the soloist, who then spins out a meditative melody.
This transitions into the next movement, which is an intermezzo [T-6] as in the previous concerto. Lyrically reflective, it again brings Massenet to mind, and couldn't be more different from the Hungarian-sounding final allegro [T-7]. This starts with a rambunctious Tzigane (RT) dance tune [00:00] followed by an amorously demonstrative melody. Both play a game of rondo tag, and then the concerto ends in a flashy RT-based coda.
The last of the Mann's three suites for orchestra fills out the disc. It was composed in two stages with the first and third of its four movements appearing around 1889 followed by the other two in 1896. The initial allegretto, which is marked "Calme et soutenu avec beaucoup de sérénité" ("Calm and With Great Serenity") [T-8], starts off with a subdued timpani roll. Considering the charming pastoral music that follows, it might well represent distant thunder heard on a bright spring day in some mountain village. And once again the mood is more Gallic than Teutonic.
The next allegretto [T-9] could be a rustic peasant dance from that mountain thorp mentioned above. With high-stepping outer sections surrounding a tuneful nostalgic inner one, it’s entirely different from the andante titled "Songe Arabe" ("Arab Dream") [T-10] that follows.
The latter opens soporifically and has haunting woodwind solos, particularly for the oboe [01:09], which may recall the more exotic moments in Grieg's (1843-1907) Peer Gynt (1875-92). The music then concludes with a couple of spirited folkish ditties [03:50], making it easy to understand why this movement gained great popularity in Holland as an independent piano piece.
The suite's "Fantasia" finale [T-11] could well pass for a tragic mini-tone-poem where it’s easy to imagine an underlying program along the lines of Franck's (1822-1890) Le chasseur maudit (The Accursed Huntsman, 1882) or even Saint-Saëns' Phaëton (1873, see 31 July 2012). With passages for the harp suggestive of some ancient legend delivered by an itinerant bard, the movement ends in a dramatic percussion-laced coda, bringing the suite to an overpowering cinematic conclusion.
Besides unearthing some unknown Dutch musical treasures, this release also introduces one of today's most outstanding young clarinetist, Sebastian Manz. His technical mastery, luscious tone, and the sensitivity with which he plays the first concerto guarantee you'll soon be hearing more from this exceptional artist. Violinist Akiko Yamada is also to be commended for her superb account of the other one.
Both soloists receive committed support from conductor Hermann Bäumer and the Osnabrück Symphony Orchestra (OSA), who also give convincing accounts of the prelude and suite. What the OSA musicians lack in technical polish they make up for with their enthusiasm for these scores.
The Stadthalle in Osnabrück, Germany was the location for these recordings. They project a deeper rather than wider, tightly focused soundstage in a wholesome acoustic with both soloists well captured and balanced against the orchestra. The instrumental tone is for the most part musical, however there is some glare in massed forte violin passages. The lows are lean and clean throughout.
One last note for the CPO repertoire people, how about a future recording of that 1884 symphony mentioned above?
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130424)
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Pejacevic: Pno Qnt, Pno Qt, Stg Qt, Impromptu (pno qt); Triendl/SinNom Qt [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
The Dora Pejacevic (1885-1923) revival on CPO (see the newsletter of 26 October 2011) continues with more chamber music by this unsung Croatian composer. These are the only currently available recordings on disc of the four selections included here, three of which rank among her major works.
A two-CD album, the first disc is devoted entirely to one of her finest pieces, the four-movement piano quintet. Three years in the making (1915-8), generally speaking it exhibits an appealing harmonic homogeneity recalling Brahms (1833-1897).
The initial allegro [T-1] is in sonata form, and graced with some very attractive thematic ideas. The first, which is announced by the piano [00:02], is of modal Slavic temperament. The skillful development and recapitulation that follow show the composer at her most harmonically and rhythmically adventurous.
The next movement [T-2] is a moving meditative aria with a couple of dramatic high points, and couldn't be more different from the following scherzo [T-3]. This has outer sections dominated by a scurrying earworm motif for the piano [00:04] recalling Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and his preoccupation with the Dies Irae. They surround a winsome lyrical trio [03:46-06:07] having the innocence of a lullaby.
The quintet concludes with another sonata form allegro of consummate construction [T-4]. Here an assertive opening phrase [00:01] bringing to mind the first measures of Debussy's (1862-1918) string quartet (1893) is followed by a lyrically attractive melody [01:28], and both undergo a variation-oriented development. They then reappear in a recapitulative coda along with intimations of ideas from previous movements bringing the work to a unified close.
The second CD begins with Dora's last completed work, the four-movement string quartet of 1922 (an earlier one from 1911 is lost). The opening measures immediately establish it as a much more progressive piece than the quintet.
The initial allegro [T-1] is a complex combination sonata-form-theme-and-variations construct based on a couple of highly chromatic ideas. While the following adagio [T-2] is a meditative rondo with a sinuous main idea that takes on a number of guises. Some of these are quite energetic despite the movement's marking.
The next minuetto [T-3] is a complete change of pace! It’s only a capricious interlude compared to the final rondo [T-4], which is the most musically advanced part of the quartet with passages that hover between the impressionism of Ravel (1875-1937) and atonality to come from the likes of Schoenberg (1874-1951). Chromatically convoluted and highly dramatic it ends the work with sighs, whispers and ultimately a sense of peaceful resignation.
The program continues with the early piano quartet of 1908, also in four movements. The first allegro [T-5] is a lyrical romantic sonata form nugget with a recurring riff [00:31, 02:32 and 05:39] that may bring the lyrical second subject of the scherzo from Borodin's (1833-1887) second string quartet (1881) to mind.
A heartrending andante [T-6], and folkish dancelike allegretto [T-7] provide brief diversions before the jaunty concluding allegro [T-8]. This cheeky, pizzicato-accented movement ends the quartet on a playful note that must have left audiences smiling.
As a final encore we get the composer's 1903 piano quartet arrangement of an earlier keyboard miniature entitled Impromptu (1898-1900). It concludes this release on an appropriately sad note considering the classical musical world lost one of its most promising romantic composers when Dora died at the early age of thirty-seven.
German pianist Oliver Triendl and the Sine Nomine Quartet of Lausanne, Switzerland make a welcome return to these pages (see 25 November 2008) giving us spirited performances of more unjustly forgotten music. Their playing is excellent except for a couple of isolated intonational anomalies in the strings, which are of minor concern considering the significance of these romantic chamber music discoveries.
A coproduction with Swiss Radio, the recordings were made at the Alte Kirche Boswil (Old Boswil Church) in Aargau, Switzerland. They project a close, somewhat confined soundstage in a neutral acoustic. The string sound is musical with bright spots, while the piano seems at times veiled. Depending on your speaker placement and/or system settings, it may appear a bit skewed to the right. In any case it would have benefitted from more central highlighting to better show off Herr Triendl's superb playing.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130423)
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