CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
12 JULY 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.
D'Erlanger, F.: Prel..., Andante…, Sursum..., Ballade..., Conc Sym...; Soloists/Wildner/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
You'd be hard-pressed to name a composer that also became a millionaire. However, Frédéric d'Erlanger (1868-1947), who was a banker by profession and wrote music on the side, did! A violin concerto by this seldom heard British composer appeared in these pages a couple of years ago (see 18 April 2011), and here are three more of his concertante works along with a couple of purely symphonic pieces. All are world premiere recordings.
His being of Parisian birth and having spent the first eighteen years of his life in France before moving permanently to London (1886), probably explains Frédéric's propensity to give his compositions French titles. Accordingly the concert begins with Prélude Romantique (1934) [T-1], which was one of his last symphonic works.
Of romantic persuasion and lasting about fifteen minutes, it's a dramatic elegantly crafted piece that could well be a tone poem. But you'll have to make up your own story as there's no suggestion of one from the composer. Suffice it to say, from the musical standpoint there are elements of Edward Elgar (1857-1934, see 31 May 2010), Granville Bantock (1868-1946, see 27 August 2012), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958, see 25 February 2013) and Arnold Bax (1883-1953, see 29 June 2010) present.
Next we have the Andante Symphonique for cello and orchestra (1919) [T-2], which is in a series of alternating slow and fast spans. It gets off to a somber orchestral start [00:02] underpinned by drumrolls and followed by a more optimistic rapturous theme (OR) introduced by the cello [01:43]. This is elaborated, after which a sprightly contrasting tune [03:40] and related relaxed idea (RR) [04:38] appear.
These undergo a developmental give-and-take leading to a fluttery virtuosic passage for soloist and tutti [07:20]. Flashing strings tagged with another drumroll announce the return of OR [08:22], which transitions into a remembrance of RR [10:20]. All is then worked into a cheerful closing coda that ends the piece with a smile.
As for Prélude pour grand orchestre, Sursum Corda! (Prelude for Large Orchestra, Lift Up Your Hearts!) dating from 1919 [T-3], "Baron Freddy," as d'Erlanger was known to family and friends, apparently never indicated it had any commemorative connotations. However, coming at the end of the First World War (WWI, 1914-8) and having a title associated with memorials to those killed, it would seem related to that conflict.
It gets off to a nostalgic Elgarian start [00:02], which becomes increasingly agitated and bellicose, transitioning into a sorrowful central episode [04:52]. The opening mood gradually returns [06:22], and the music builds to a couple of heroic crescendos with the last ending the piece in great triumph.
The cello is again featured in Ballade (1926) [T-4], but more in a decorative sense as opposed to the solo role it had in the earlier Andante Symphonique. The restrained autumnal opening slowly brightens into a lovely rhapsody for orchestra tunefully embroidered by the cello. The latter's presence becomes a tad more pronounced as the piece plays out and ends with a heavenly whimper for soloist and tutti.
Now for the big enchilada, Concerto pour piano et orchestre, or Concerto Symphonique as it was later billed. Dutton once again upstages Hyperion (see 20 June 2013) and their ongoing "Romantic Piano Concerto" series (see 27 May 2013) with this delight. Probably completed just after WWI and published in 1921, it consists of four movements, the last two proceeding without a break.
There's a soothing ebb-and-flow about d'Erlanger's music that makes it most appealing, and that couldn't be more apparent than in this piece! The first movement [T-5] opens with a forceful falling pronouncement (FF) from the piano [00:02] seconded by the orchestra [00:29]. Some memorable thematic material follows, including a lovely romantic tune (LR) [02:31] not too far removed from Liszt's (1811-1886) familiar last of Three Liebesträume for piano (S 541; c. 1845-50).
A chromatically inventive development laced with virtuosic keyboard pyrotechnics follows. Then a thrilling recap that includes a swelling reference to LR [09:30] concludes the movement jubilantly.
The scherzo [T-6] is rondoesque with a thoroughly infectious recurring theme (IR) [00:01] that oddly enough resembles ND referenced in the Grieg (1843-1907) recommendation below. This movement is a delicate wind-blown feather and one of d'Erlanger's most delightful utterances.
The clarinet begins the third one [T-7] with a downcast descending motif (DD) [00:00] that's a cousin to IR. DD is the subject of some enchanting thematic transformations interspersed with unifying reminders of it. A commanding Slavic-sounding variant [03:39-05:12] could almost be out of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) The Maid of Orleans (1878-9) mentioned below. It's followed by a wistful melodic treatment that quietly slips via a timpani roll into the concerto's flamboyant finale [T-8].
This starts with some highly romantic bravura passages for soloist and tutti bringing to mind Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Medtner's (1880-1951) earlier concertos (1891-1914). Some memorable themes are stated and explored in a virtuosic development characterized by that ebb-and-flow alluded to above. There are allusions to past ideas, including bits of that impish IR which pop up with incorrigibly [04:16, 04:30, 06:11]. The concerto ends with FF making a final big tune appearance [07:37] and blazing fireworks for all.
Cellist Guy Johnston makes a strong case for the Andante Symphonique and Ballade, while the same can be said about pianist Victor Sangiorgio, who's no stranger to these pages (see 7 November 2012), in regard to the Concerto Symphonique. Both artists exercise their considerable technical skills only in service to these sensitive scores. Conductor Johannes Wildner and the BBC Concert Orchestra (BBCO) give them splendid support, and deliver totally committed accounts of the two symphonic selections.
A coproduction with BBC Radio 3 and the BBCO, this was done at Colosseum Town Hall, Watford, England, which has been the site for other recent Dutton releases (see 20 June 2013). As with them the recordings project a well-focused soundstage, but the surroundings here seem a little less expansive than on the disc just referenced. The balance between soloists and orchestra seems right on.
The instrumental timbre is bright but musical with a clean low end. The cello is natural sounding, and the piano quite well captured with a percussive clarity well suited to d'Erlanger's knuckle-busting concerto. There are occasional digital rough spots, but not so pronounced that they detract from these once in a lifetime recordings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130712)
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Dobrzynski, I.: Sym 2 "Characteristic", Pno Conc, Monbar... Ov; Borowicz/Pol RSO [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski (1807-1867) studied at the Warsaw Conservatory between 1826 and 1828, where he was a classmate of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), but compared to Frédéric he's remained little known. This seems partly explained by Chopin's leaving Poland soon after he completed his studies to pursue a spectacular international career. On the other hand, Ignacy remained in the intellectually stifling confines of then Russian-occupied Warsaw, where his music languished.
Chandos makes amends for that with this recent release sampling some of his symphonic works. The newly reconstructed and edited account of the concerto, as well as a revised version of his last symphony and its original slow movement are world premiere recordings.
This adventurous "twofer" begins with the overture to his opera Monbar, czyli Flibustierowie (Monbar, or The Corsair; 1836-8, currently unavailable on disc) [CD-1, T-1]. The story might be considered a nineteenth century counterpart of those Pirates of the Caribbean films (2003-11) with Monbar corresponding to Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp).
It begins deceptively with a subdued groundswell (SG) for the seldom heard bass clarinet [00:02]. The horn plus other winds enter as the sea state builds into a storm-swept sequence [02:57] that's a combination of Auber (1782-1871) and Weber (1786-1826). The tempest then abates into a lilting carefree melody (LC) [03:59] set to a bouncy pizzicato bass.
Some swordplay seems indicated in the following action-packed passage (AP) [04:38[, which falls off via a horn call and some orchestral sequences into a repeat of SG [06:55] and LC [07:53]. Then AP returns [08:36] making it easy to imagine Monbar and his pirate crew capturing another rich sea-going prize! The overture ends triumphantly anticipating Suppé's (1819-1895) more colorful curtain-raisers (see the newsletter of 25 February 2013).
The three-movement piano concerto of 1824 was never published, and had to wait until 1986 for its first known performance. The version here is based on a reworking of the original manuscript by Polish composer Krzysztof Baculewski (b. 1950). It restores some ten minutes worth of cuts in what till now was the only available recording of it on disc. Additionally there's a pensive cadenza in the last movement by our pianist, Emilian Madley.
The initial sonata form allegro [D-1, T-2] opens with a perky angular (PA) theme [00:00] smacking of Beethoven (1770-1827), as does the stormy passagework that follows. Then we get a lovely pastoral melody (LP) [01:30] succeeded by an elaboration, after which the soloist enters forcefully [02:54] restating both ideas.
An extended rigorous development with virtuosic passages for the soloist is next. It's notable for a couple of cleverly deceptive recapitulatory false starts, which build anticipation in the listener. They make the cheery reprise begun by the piano recalling PA [13:36] and LP [13:56] all the more welcome. A couple of last minute keyboard flourishes bring the movement to an affable close.
A gorgeous romantic utterance, there's a sophisticated elegance about the andante [D-1, T-3] that makes it hard to believe the composer was only seventeen when he wrote it! As the informative album notes point out, there's a recitative-like passage for the soloist over a string ostinato [05:41-06:50], which Chopin might have had in the back of his mind when he wrote the larghetto for his second piano concerto (1829-30).
Speaking of Chopin, the infectious modified rondo finale of Feliks' concerto [D-1, T-4] is modelled on the fast Polish folk dance known as a krakowiak, and brings to mind Frédéric's Rondo à la Krakowiak for piano and orchestra of 1828. Introductory horn calls invoke the piano playing a bubbling dance tune (BD) [00:08] that's the recurring idea for the movement. Then some variants of BD interspersed with reminders of it are followed by the cadenza [05:26-07:02] mentioned above.
This is not your everyday rondo, because the composer now surprises us as tutti and soloist return with an entirely new, minor-key-resident idea (NM) [07:05]. This is briefly explored, but the piano soon returns with hints of BD [08:34]. These grow into a fuller statement of BD [09:08], which is ingeniously joined to NM, now in the major [09:24]. The two are then worked into a fetching final coda that Mendelssohn (1809-1847) would have loved (see 21 December 2009)! A flaming piano accompanied by a manic orchestra end the concerto and the first CD on an adrenaline rush.
With no established symphony orchestras in Poland until around the 1870s, indigenous symphonies dating from that period are scarce as hen's teeth! Consequently Dobrzynski's two efforts originating between 1829 and 1834 are real rarities! The second originally dating from 1831-4 came in the wake of the Polish 1830 Uprising, and was given the rather nationalistic title Characteristic Symphony in the Spirit of Polish Music. Each of its four movements is linked to a native dance, and it's the composer's revision of 1862 that's done here.
The opening movement [D-2, T-1] is reputedly based on the polonaise, but sounds so Germanic it's hard to imagine any association between them. In fact it could almost be a Beethoven clone, although a very good one at that! This is particularly true of the slow ominous introduction [00:00] that hints at the anxiety-ridden main theme (AM) soon to come.
A drumroll [01:49] announces the faster concluding part of the movement that starts with AM stated in full [02:08]. AM then undergoes a rondo-like development having a prickly fugal episode [06:41], and is the fuel for an agitated final coda concluding things on an anxious note.
There are alternate versions of the slow movement, which is titled "Elegia" [D-2, T-2]. The first originated with the work, while the other is an orchestrated version of the andante from Feliks' string sextet of 1841 (currently unavailable on disc). This recording of the symphony incorporates the later one.
There's something of Wagner (1813-1883) about the foreboding opening [00:00], which serves as a transition between the anguished previous movement and the main theme in this one. A proud Slavic-tinted idea (PS) announced by trumpet and winds [01:33], it's devoid of those Teutonic influences so prevalent before. It makes it easy to believe what we're told is an association between this movement and a Polish folk dance known as the kujawiak, which is a slow mazurka. PS is then dramatically reworked, and eventually blossoms into full flower [04:33], only to wilt away ending the movement wistfully.
The third "Minuetto alla Mazovienna" ("Mazovian Minuet") movement [D-2, T-3] begins with a four-note trumpet riff (FT) [00:00] that may bring a smile as it leaves one expecting Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" from A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42). The capricious music that follows is a clever combination minuet and mazurka. Catchy rhythms and modulations along with recurring FTs characterize the outer sections, which surround a lovely cantabile trio [02:56-06:14].
The "Finale alla Cracovienna" ("Cracovian Finale") like the last movement of the concerto is another krakowiak-based rondo (see above). It gets off to a flighty start with a melody from the Polish folk ditty "Albosmy to jacy tacy" ("That's just how we are!"), which will be the main recurring theme (MR) [00:05]. Oddly enough the music that follows recalls the frantic moments in Rossini's (1792-1868) overtures at several spots [00:38, 01:44, 04:40, 05:45]. A thrilling whirlwind MR-based coda [06:14] ends the symphony in high spirits.
The disc closes with the earlier version of "Elegia" [D-2, T-5] mentioned above. It's a simpler more straightforward offering where a lilting pastoral passage (LP) featuring horn and winds [00:00] alternates with a closely related lullaby-like one (CR) for strings [02:08]. Try programming the symphony with this version for a somewhat lighter listening experience.
A student of Baculewski (see above), the concerto couldn't be in better hands than Polish pianist Emilian Madey's. He gives a breathtaking account, which from both the technical and interpretive standpoints does justice to his teacher's revitalized version of the score. He receives outstanding support from the Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra under conductor Lukasz Borowicz, whom we've lauded before for their superb performances of Andrzej Panufnik's orchestral works on CPO (see 25 May 2011). The overture and symphony along with its alternate movement fare equally well.
A coproduction between Chandos and Polish Radio, these recordings were done on three separate occasions in October 2009 and March 2011. Utilizing the same venue (Witold Lutoslawski Concert Studio, Warsaw) and engineering personnel as the CPO referenced above, they project a generous soundstage in a warmly reverberant acoustic. This time around the instrumental timbre is characterized by highs that seem a bit more brittle, while the lows remain lean and clean.
Mr. Madey plays a Fazioli grand piano (F 278), and as noted before (see 16 August 2010) these instruments seem to have more than their fair share of action noise, which is particularly noticeable in the concerto's first movement. Other than that the piano is well balanced against the orchestra, and reasonably well captured despite some fuzziness in more complex forte passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130711)
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Farrenc: Vc Son, Vn Son 2; Whitson/Oliveros/Haupert [Centaur]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
It's ladies' night on CLOFO with this new Centaur release, which includes two sonatas by French composer Louise Farrenc (1804-1875) performed by members of the fair sex. Those who enjoyed that CD of her chamber music we told you about several years ago (see 31 July 2009) will find this a worthy successor. What's more, it has the only currently available version of her cello sonata on disc.
Louise studied at the Paris Conservatory, and in 1842 became its first woman professor. She'd teach piano there for the next thirty years, during which she wrote some of her finest music. A great deal of it is in the chamber genre, and modeled after Mozart (1756-1791) and Beethoven (1770-1827), whom she'd carefully studied. Consequently there's a harmonic and structural sophistication about her creations placing them way above the showy trifles being written then for Parisian salons.
The program begins with the second of her violin sonatas completed circa 1850-5. There's a classical simplicity about this four movement work, which opens with a sonata form allegro [T-1]. This has a repeated exposition [00:00 and 02:47] with a couple of attractive themes followed by the usual development [05:31] and recapitulation [07:06]. Everything is according to Hoyle, making it one of the most straightforward examples of this musical construct you could ever hope to find.
A catchy scherzo is next [T-2] with jittery outer sections surrounding a comely lyrical trio [02:16-04:17]. It's a palate cleanser before the adagio [T-3], which is a sinuous serenade with folk overtones. There are some violin passages of Tzigane persuasion [02:21-02:45] that compared to the rest of sonata seem quite daring.
The final allegro is a rondo [T-4] based on a childlike theme [00:00], which the violin and piano toss back and forth as they romp around each other. It ends the work on a real high.
Coming a couple of years later, the cello sonata (completed 1857-80) has a Beethoven patina that adds a gravitas, which makes it more progressive than the previous piece. In only three movements the first allegro [T-5] is structurally similar to that in the violin sonata, but with a single exposition having a pair of more memorable ideas [00:04, 01:37].
Soon thereafter there's a run of notes (RN) [02:39] reminiscent of one near the beginning of the last movement in Beethoven's Appassionata Sonata (No. 23, 1804). Farrenc then gives us a more harmonically advanced development [03:24] and recap [05:24] with a final coda [08:14] concluding the movement more in the romantic vein.
The andante [T-6] is a songlike offering all the more charming for its innocent simplicity, while the concluding allegro [T-7] is another rondo with a mischievous squirrely tune (MS) [00:00] for a recurring idea. MS lends itself well to some fancy fiddling as well as several infectious variations with more of those RNs (02:06-02:34). The sonata then ends emphatically, leaving everyone with a good feeling!
Violinist Nancy Oliveros, cellist Kirsten Whitson and pianist Mary Ellen Haupert aren't going to win any prizes for these performances. But rather than a reflection of their innate abilities, this may well be due to Centaur's relying on one-shot, sight-read takes to keep production costs at a minimum. Fortunately the music is inherently interesting enough to make it easier to overlook the rough spots in these accounts. As noted before with repertoire this rare, we're lucky to have what’s here.
Done without an audience on separate occasions at Viterbo University's recital hall in La Crosse, Wisconsin, these recordings present a comfortably sized soundstage in a suitable acoustic. The piano is perfectly captured with every note beautifully rounded. The strings are natural sounding but somewhat in the background, which may all be for the best considering the intonational malaise occasionally present.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130710)
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Grieg: Vn Sons 1-3 (arr vn & orch Kraggerud & Lund); Kraggerud/Tromsö ChO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Billed on the album cover of this new Naxos release as "Three Concerti for Violin and Chamber Orchestra," these are actually arrangements done last year (2012) of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907, see 22 March 2012) three violin sonatas. Considering he wrote one of the world's best loved piano concertos but never one for violin, they're intriguing teasers for what he might have given us.
The first two of the sonatas come from the beginning of his career (1865-7), and the last towards the end (1886-7). Consequently we get an early as well as late stylistic perspective as to how such a concerto might have sounded.
We have soloist Henning Kraggerud and arranger Bernt Simen Lund, both of the Tromsö Chamber Orchestra, to thank for these. Read Kraggerud's informative album notes regarding how they went about doing them. All of the "concertos" retain the three-movement structure of their parent sonatas, and are scored for an orchestra comprised of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and strings.
The first "concerto" opens with a sonata form allegro [T-1] having two main ideas that are sequentially rustic [00:10] and contemplative [00:52]. Both seem derived from those Norwegian folk tunes Grieg seems to have had continually running around in his head. They're subjected to a moody development, and then take a final bow in a cheerful recapitulation ending the movement much as it began.
The next one [T-2] is a charming ternary, A-B-A number featuring a couple of Scandinavian melodies anticipating the composer's orchestral dances (1887-98). The outer sections [00:00, 04:01] have a masculine swagger, while there's a feminine coyness about the inner one [02:29-04:00], which at one point sounds like one of those hardingfele (Hardanger fiddle) tunes [02:35] so popular with Norwegian composers (see the newsletter 7 April 2007). Together they make it easy to imagine some local peasant festivity.
The best comes last with a tuneful, rhythmically diverse allegro [T-3] that's a concoction of contrasting folk ideas skillfully blended to suit the most discriminating of tastes. These include a scurrying opening (SO) theme [00:00] worthy of Mendelssohn (1809-1847) with a doleful countermelody (DC) [00:42] that bridges into a winsome sighing theme (WS) [01:26]. After a brief pause we get a DC-based fugato [02:29] that introduces a harmonically colorful development. A delightful recap follows [04:08], and the work ends with wistful memories of WS and SO.
A Norse chill runs through the second "concerto" whose initial modified sonata form movement [T-4] opens with a melancholy introduction for orchestra and soloist [00:00] hinting at a couple of attractive folkish ideas soon to follow. The tempo picks up as the tutti deliver a Norwegian dance ditty (ND) [01:47], which strangely enough anticipates IR referenced in the d'Erlanger recommendation above.
ND is restated and followed by a lullaby-like melody (LL) [02:54], which is also repeated. A clever development involving both ND and LL comes next [04:43], concluding with a cello pedal point [06:35] segueing into a restrained remembrance of the opening measures. This flowers into a sunny recap [07:39] ending the movement ebulliently.
The following allegretto [T-5] begins with a subdued angular idea (SA) for oboe [00:00] that's picked up by the soloist [00:24] and briefly developed. It's succeeded by a more folksy countermelody [01:44] that's also developed, and then the movement ends with a reminder of SA.
The final allegro [T-6] contrasts a capricious hardingfele-like (see above) idea (CH) [00:00] with a related reserved Nordic theme [01:48]. Accordingly the mood is alternately one of joy and melancholy, with the former finally prevailing to give the work a happy ending.
The progenitor of the third "concerto" was inspired by a young Italian lady violinist, and became one of Edvard's favorite works. More progressive than the two proceeding sonatas, the concerto version is accordingly harmonically as well as rhythmically adventurous.
The opening sonata form allegro [T-7] is built around a sawing stormy idea (SS) [00:00] and an amorous cantilena-like (AC) melody [01:06]. More of Latin than Scandinavian temperament [00:00], they're subjected to an intensely romantic extended development. This transitions via bravura passages into a tragic recapitulative coda [05:58] based on AC and SS.
Next up a gorgeous expressive romance [T-8] with a killer Grieg tune (KG) [00:00] that's in a class with his Two Elegiac Melodies of six years earlier (1881). A catchy skittering variant having Eastern European overtones follows [02:23] precluding KG from turning into a romantic quagmire. Then we get an introspective treatment of KG [04:02]. With some chromatic spicing that insures it never becomes surfeited, it ends the movement on a contemplative note.
Grieg's stylistic ship has left Norwegian waters for the concluding allegro [T-9], which begins with a pixilated Eastern-sounding tune (PE) [00:00] that may bring Dvorak's (1841-1904) Slavonic Dances (1878-86) to mind. A somber contrasting countermelody (SC) follows [02:56] and is expanded, after which we get a development of PE [04:01]. SC then makes an emotional comeback [06:02], but PE has the last say bringing the work to a high-stepping conclusion.
Norwegian virtuoso violinist Henning Kraggerud and the Tromsö Chamber Orchestra (TCO) give outstanding accounts of these "concertos". With music this appealing it's highly likely other recordings will follow, but considering Kraggerud's inbred feeling for it and role as co-arranger, these performances should remain definitive for some time to come. On the basis of this release, the TCO is a class act, and every one of its twenty-odd members a virtuoso in their own right.
Made at the Grönnåsen Kirke, Tromsö, Norway, the recordings are excellent projecting a suitably proportioned soundstage in a nourishing acoustic. The balance between soloist and tutti is ideal, and Kraggerud's silky violin tone shown off to best advantage. The instrumental timbre is exceptionally natural with airy highs and clean bass with no hint of overhang in the low strings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130709)
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Peterson-Berger: Vn Son, Ste, Canzone, Folk Song (all vn & pno); Wallin/Derwinger [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
One of Sweden's lesser-known but important late romantic composers, Wilhelm Peterson-Berger (1867-1942) makes a long overdue CLOFO debut with this sampling of his pieces for violin and piano. A master craftsman possessing a substantial melodic gift, these selections have a charm and refinement that will win him many admirers. As done here, these are the only currently available performances of them on disc.
Around the turn of the twentieth century the Royal Opera Orchestra was the only established one in Sweden, which made it difficult for native composers to get their symphonic works performed at home. Consequently many of them turned to writing chamber music during this period with the violin sonata being one of the most popular genres. Peterson-Berger penned three of them back then, but as more Swedish orchestras came into being, he turned to the symphony, eventually composing five of them (1903-33).
This release begins with his "Opus 1" sonata dating from 1887. Having four movements, the first [T-1] is in sonata form and opens with two thematic groups that are pleadingly anxious (PA) [00:01] as opposed to pastoral [01:56]. An imaginative development with folkish colorings follows, and then a melancholy recap ends the movement in an agitated final coda.
A moving amorous adagio [T-2] comes next, and then a scherzo [T-3] that juggles a scampering, diabolical idea reminiscent of Mendelssohn (1809-1847) [00:00] with a relaxed lyrical one [00:52]. The sonata ends in a vivacious finale [T-4], which begins with an antsy idea [00:00] succeeded by a more lyrical theme derived from PA [01:07]. A rondoesque elaboration of both ensues, and the sonata concludes ecstatically with virtuosic displays from both soloists.
Written almost ten years later, Wilhelm's four-movement suite (1896) has the same folkish appeal as his better known Frösöblomster (Frösö Flowers, 1896) for piano. The opening "Tillegnan" ("Dedication") [T-5] is a melodic outpouring with an amorous insistency that falls easily on the ear. There's a fetching capriciousness about the "Serenata" [T-6], while the sinuous "Slummersang" ("Slumber Song") [T-7] could well be a Scandinavian folk lullaby.
In the final "Fackeldans" ("Torch Dance") [T-8] a devilish ditty [00:00] presaging satanic moments in Stravinsky's (1882-1971) L'histoire du soldat (1918) chases an angelic tune [01:45] in rondo fashion. But evil prevails and the suite ends with some fiendish fiddling set to an animated piano accompaniment.
The disc is filled out with a couple of short occasional pieces that are ideal encore material. Canzone (1889) is all that's come down to us of what might have been another suite for violin and piano. There's a simplicity and directness that make it one of P-B's most endearing melodic creations. The same can be said for Visa i folkton (Folk Song, 1892), which is an arrangement of the third from his Fyra visor i svensk folkton (Four Swedish Folksongs, 1892; not currently available on disc). They bring this CD to a nostalgic conclusion.
Two of Sweden's most talented musicians, violinist Ulf Wallin (see 31 May 2010) and pianist Love Derwinger give us superb accounts of everything. Wallin's sumptuous violin tone along with elegant phrasing and attention to rhythmic detail on the part of both turn what in lesser hands might be everyday performances into highly memorable ones.
A coproduction with the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation, these are studio recordings made at Radio House in Stockholm. They project an ideal soundstage in surroundings that are pleasingly reverberant, but some may find add a touch of hollowness to the violin's lower registers. Other than that the string sound is musically appealing, and the piano ideally captured with percussive well-rounded notes. However, those with speaker systems that go down to rock-bottom may sense some intermittent low frequency murmurs probably related to the keyboard action.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y130708)
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Tchaikovsky, P.: Maid of Orleans (cpte opera); Soloists/Rozhdestvensky/BolshTh&MosR C&O [Melodiya]
RECOMMENDED (3 CDs)
It's taken almost forty-five years for this legendary Bolshoi Theater, Moscow Radio stereo recording of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) The Maid of Orleans (1878-9) featuring Irina Arkhipova in the title role to make it's silver disc debut! Completed immediately after Eugene Onegin (1877-8), had he realized a planned revision, Maid... might well have been his finest opera. Be that as it may, it's still one of his most captivating dramas with many exhilarating moments.
Tchaikovsky first developed a fascination with Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) as a boy when the family governess read him a story about "The Maid of Orleans" as she's also known. Then in 1878 he discovered Friedrich Schiller's (1759-1805) 1801 tragedy of that title, and decided to compose an opera about her. He also wrote the libretto, which unfortunately is not included in the album notes, although there is a synopsis.
Set in early fifteenth century France during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453), it's in four acts with an orchestral introduction [D-1, T-1]. This begins with celestial winds and strings intoning a saintly Joan theme (SJ) [00:01], after which the music builds to a frenetic Tchaikovsky episode [03:05] reminiscent of the more intense moments in his Fate Symphony (No. 4, 1877-8) written about the same time.
Then we get one of the composer's most inspired melodies presumably representing Joan's divine mission (DM) [04:32] to deliver France from the invading English. A religiously fervid passage follows, and subsides with a reminder of SJ [06:03] followed by a flute solo transitioning into the first act.
The curtain goes up on a local festival near Joan's home town of Domremy, and we hear a lovely chorus by a group of maidens as they decorate an ancient oak tree [D-1, T-2]. They're soon joined by Joan, her father Thibaut, and suitor Raymond who sing a dramatic trio in which we learn about the ongoing invasion [D-1, T-3]. We also find out her father wishes her to marry Raymond, but she tells him she cannot because she must obey the wishes of Heaven [D-1, T-4].
An exciting ensemble number tinged with more of that "Fate" music follows [D-1, T-5], and we discover the enemy is ravaging the countryside and has reached the center of France, where they have surrounded Orleans. In a stirring solo Joan tells the crowd to dry their tears as she has taken up her sword and will conquer the foreigners [D-1, T-6]. She goes on to prophetically declare the English commander Salisbury has been killed.
Next Joan sings a moving hymn (MH) [D-1, T-7] set to a killer melody [00:45] imploring God's help in defeating the enemy. All join in, giving us one of the most glorious moments in all of Tchaikovsky! The orchestral passage which follows [D-1, T-8] strangely resembles the one in Wagner's (1813-1883) Die Walküre (1856) where Wotan invokes Loge to surround Brunhilde with magic fire. It prefaces a touching aria for Joan which has her bidding farewell to her surroundings, and is highlighted by a brief heroic outburst on the words "This is the word from on High, and I am guided by Heaven's wishes..." [04:05].
She goes on to say how sad she is to leave home [D-1, T-9], and we hear the nostalgic sound of a distant church bell [00:57]. Encouraged by an angelic choir, she declares in a glorious passage set to DM [02:43] that she'll lead her troops to victory. The angels add their support, and the first act curtain descends to some stunning orchestral passages.
A thrilling entr'acte [D-1, T-10] prefacing the second act starts with drum rolls and brass fanfares heralding a big tune reminder of MH [00:25]. The curtain then goes up revealing a hall in the rightful French King Charles VII's (1403-1461) castle at Chinon. A group of minstrels deliver a subdued chorus of more Slavic than Latin temperament [D-1, T-11], which Charles finds too sad, and commands the court entertainers to amuse the assembled royalty with their dancing.
In the French grand opera tradition, a brief ballet recalling some of the numbers from Swan Lake (1875-6) and anticipating others in Sleeping Beauty (1888-9) follows. It begins with a gypsy dance [D-2, T-1] having whirling outer sections and a serene central trio episode. A short rustic cavort for the pages and dwarfs [D-2, T-2] is next. Then there's one of those spirited chugging Tchaikovsky gavottes for the clowns and tumblers [D-2, T-3] ending the ballet in a rhythmic frenzy.
The next scene [D-2, T-4] has the King, who's seated on a raised dais, telling of his great devotion for his mistress Agnes, and desire to stay with her rather than going to war; however, his faithful knight Dunois reminds him this is no time for love! In a dramatic exchange [D-2, T-5] he then exhorts Charles to lead his troops into battle and save the people of Orleans.
At first Charles seems encouraged to take his advice and assume the role of a leader. Then a wounded French soldier suddenly enters [D-2, T-6], recounts his unit's recent defeat, and expires on the spot. This causes Charles to change his mind and contemplate running away from the fray. With that Dunois says he is no longer his servant, will go to Orleans where he'll perish in its ruins, and leaves.
The duet for Charles and Agnes that follows [D-2, T-7] also includes a beautiful flute solo [02:33-03:28] and dynamic aria for her [03:29-06:04]. In this amorous encounter they declare their abiding love will sustain them during the life of poverty and hard times ahead. However, in the next soaring ensemble number announced by trumpets and chorus singing, "Glory, glory to our rescuer, our maiden!" we discover that all is not lost [D-2, T-8].
Dunois then reenters followed by the French Archbishop, who tells of Joan's sudden appearance at Orleans. There with banner held high she proceeded to rally the French troops in a rout of the besieging English forces.
The Archbishop then announces Joan's momentary arrival, at which point crafty Charles decides to test her divine powers. He commands Dunois to switch places with him so he can see if she can identify the true King-to-be. Joan enters [D-2, T-9], immediately declares Dunois is not the king, and goes up to Charles saying, "This is the one to whom I've been sent by heaven."
After going on further to reveal a couple of his dreams, which only he would have known about, Charles is finally sold on her celestial credentials. Then in a stirring aria [06:23-11:51] Joan tells about her background. She goes on to say how she received her heavenly calling to destroy the enemy, and see Charles rightfully crowned king at Reims, which was then the site for coronations.
The second act finale [D-2, T-10] is a grandiose heroic ensemble number where Charles gives control of his army to Joan. After an ecstatic chorus invoking God's help for victory over the English, the curtain descends to one of Tchaikovsky's most exciting orchestral passages.
Both last acts are in two scenes, and Tchaikovsky took poetic license with the story in the first of each, giving Joan a romantic dimension. The one beginning the third act [D-2, T-11], which is set in Reims, opens in a nearby field with a combative orchestral introduction full of pounding drums and warlike brass fanfares. This lays the groundwork for some sword play about to take place between Joan and Lionel, a Burgundian knight loyal to the English. He soon rushes on stage pursued by her, and after acknowledging each other they duel with Joan prevailing.
Just as she's about to run him through, a moon beam lights up his face and her warlike disposition turns to love. In a powerful duet [06:53-11:28] with echoes of Eugene Onegin (1877-8), they fall for each other. Joan then sees Dunois approaching with some of his soldiers, and urges Lionel to take it on the lam. They enter to more of that previously mentioned "Fate" music [12:18], but instead of running, Lionel surrenders to Dunois, who urges him to embrace their cause.
Dunois goes on to say the French have been victorious and Reims has opened its gates to them. He then notices Joan is wounded and bleeding. She's despondent over having fallen in love with the enemy, and sings "With my blood, let me die...," ending the scene on a tragic note.
The second scene takes place the day of Charles' crowning in front of Reims Cathedral [D-3, T-1]. Opening brass flourishes announce a commanding march [01:06] with a portentous "Fate" moment [02:03] followed by a chorus of welcoming citizens [02:39]. These include Raymond and Thibault, who then have a duet [D-3, T-2] notable for its organ accompaniment. In it Thibault says he wants to make Joan forget all the glory she's been surrounded with and return to her true faith. This augurs her coming martyrdom, and Raymond cautions him not to condemn his only child.
The complex conclusion finds Tchaikovsky at his most manic [D-3, T-3] and starts with more brass fanfares, an organ solo [00:17], and festive chorus praising God [00:40]. An organ postlude [02:20-03:53] is heard as the newly crowned Charles VII leaves the cathedral followed by Joan, Agnes, Lionel and the Archbishop.
There are more brass outbursts, and the chorus sings "Glory, glory to the King" [04:07], after which Charles and the assembled citizenry laud Joan. But all's not well as Thibault steps out of the crowd, and in a passage along with the chorus, Joan and the King [D-3, T-4] tells everyone she's not an instrument of Heaven but Hell!
The act closes with all the major protagonists plus chorus joining in an ensemble number. It begins with Joan's father declaring she must be burned at the stake to save her soul from the fires of Hell [D-3, T-5]. Then Dunois rises to her defense stating he’ll fight anyone who dares accuse her of such evil [D-3, T-6]. However, several thunderclaps [00:32, 01:11, 01:56, 02:15] seem to confirm her guilt, and Lionel urges her to flee with him [D-3, T-7]. But Joan turns on him and closes the third act declaring he’s a hated enemy who's destroyed her with his love!
A dense forest is the setting for the first scene in the fourth and final act. An agonized orchestral introduction with the emotional intensity of Francesca da Rimini (1876) gives way to a moving amorous aria for Joan [D-3, T-8] in which she declares her love for Lionel. He then suddenly appears and they embrace to one of those glorious Tchaikovsky passion-swept orchestral moments [04:42], after which we get a gorgeous duet [D-3, T-9].
However, amorous bliss turns to grief as that chorus of angels tells Joan she's disobeyed the will of Heaven [04:42]. Accordingly for her penance she must suffer imprisonment followed by death, but they also reveal a blessing awaits her in Heaven. Things then go from bad to worse as English soldiers rush in [05:30] and fatally stab Lionel who's tried to protect her. He dies in her arms, and the scene closes as she's shackled and taken away.
Tchaikovsky opted for the familiar martyr ending rather than Schiller's where Joan dies on the battlefield with her honor and reputation restored. Consequently the opera's final scene [D-3, T-10] is the square at Rouen with a stake visible in the background. After a doleful orchestral introduction, a crowd of onlookers announces the arrival of Joan [03:00], who's led in with a priest.
She says how afraid she is, and asks for a cross, which an attendant soldier makes her from two sticks. Then bound to the stake, the pyre is set ablaze, and Joan immolated to billowing orchestral flames. A chorus of angels is heard calling her soul to heaven as the soldiers and people sing "Tis done, forgive her, Lord!" The opera ends in a final conflagrant orchestral coda.
A Bolshoi all-star production, which after almost half a century still remains for many of us the definitive recording of this rarely heard opera, it's good to finally have it on CD. The great Russian mezzo-soprano Irina Arkhipova (Joan) heads a stellar cast with soprano Klavdia Radchenko (Agnes), tenors Andrey Sokolov (Raymond) and Vladimir Makhov (King Charles VII), baritones Vladimir Valaitis (Dunois) and Sergei Yakovenko (Lionel), along with basses Evgeny Vladimirov (Thibaut) and Lev Vernigora (The Archbishop). All are in superb voice delivering dramatic, persuasive accounts of their respective roles.
While conductor Gennady Rozhdestvensky has been known at times for strange tempos, there's no sign of them here. He elicits thrilling performances from each of the soloists as well as the combined Bolshoi Theater, Moscow Radio Chorus and Orchestra. Although this production dates from the Soviet years, we're also happy to note there's none of that brass vibrato that frequently characterized Russian orchestras of that era.
The original Melodiya stereo recording of this was made in 1969 at an undisclosed Russian location and without an audience. Comparing the 1974 LP release on Columbia to this album, it would appear the master tapes have held up well. What’s more, the Melodiya production staff gets top marks for squeezing the best sound possible out of them!
The LP version had those steely highs and projected a pinched, wrong-end-of-the-telescope sonic image typical of Soviet era Melodiyas. The CD has a brittle but more listener friendly upper end, and marginally better proportioned soundstage. Granted this release won't win any audiophile awards, but with music this glorious listeners with pointy-ears will soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P130707)
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