CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
21 OCTOBER 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.
Flury, R.: Sym 1, Vn Conc 2 (orch U.Flury), Casanova… (3 orch excs); Hoelscher/U.Flury/Biel SO [Gallo]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Swiss composer Richard Flury (1896-1967) makes his CLOFO debut with this new Gallo CD featuring some of his orchestral music. Unlike his compatriot Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962, see 31 July 2013) who studied in Germany, Richard received his musical training in Switzerland except for a few composition lessons with Austrian composer Joseph Marx (see 15 April 2009 in Vienna. These are the only recordings of the selections here currently available on disc.
The program starts with three symphonic excerpts from his 1937 opera Casanova e l'Albertollis, which because of time constraints was orchestrated by a friend. First we get the overture [T-1], which has a busy beginning that's an engaging combination of the openings from Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Don Juan (1888-9) [00:02] and Giacomo Puccini's (1858-1924) Madama Butterfy (1904) [00:43]. A couple of lovely themes follow and the overture ends much as it began.
An atmospheric Introduzione pastorale (Pastoral Introduction) presumably to one of the later acts comes next [T-2]. There are several soothing horn passages that add an autumnal glow to the music. And then the mood shifts in the concluding selection, which is a Marcia Svizzera (Swiss March) announced by brass fanfares [T-3]. A juxtaposition of festive and stately elements, the piece ends triumphantly.
The second of Flury's three violin concertos was written in 1940, but never scored. Then in 1969 the composer's son Urs Joseph, who's also our conductor, orchestrated it from the piano accompaniment giving us the version presented here. In the usual three movements, generally speaking there's a lyrical chromatic peripateticism about it like that found in Max Reger's (1873-1916) music. The winsome initial allegro [T-4] offers a couple of extended themes. These are harmonically manipulated, developed and attractively recapped. The movement then ends definitively with fiddle flourishes.
The andante [T-5] is a passionate meditation that's most affecting. It may bring to mind the more amorous moments in Reinhold Glière's (1875-1956) ballet The Red Poppy (1926-7) [02:21].
But romance turns to bravura caprice in the final allegro [T-6]. This is built on a wiry theme [00:00] that scurries about in rondo fashion with hints of past ideas surfacing every now and then. The concerto ends unexpectedly with some last minute fireworks for soloist and tutti.
The symphony that's next is the first of seven, and dates from 1922-3. In the usual four movements, the initial allegro [T-7] opens with a radiantly expansive theme (RE) [00:04] whose last part [00:55] smacks of Bruckner (1824-1896). RE is elaborated and a gently swaying idea follows [03:15], after which both are subjected to a dramatic development [04:08]. The concluding recapitulation [07:54] ends the movement in Brucknerian pomp.
The andante [T-8] is a charming pastoral having comely harp, woodwind and tuned percussion figurations. There are frequent hints of RE in this gentle music, which sets the tone for the vernal joie de vivre scherzo that's next [T-9]. Here the occasional clack of castanets adds a Latin flavor.
There's a rondo-like playfulness about the finale [T-10] where dance-like and more grandiose ideas derived from past motifs alternate with one another. RE is hinted at a number of times, and then becomes the big tune [06:26] acting as a cyclic reminder of the symphony's beginning, and ending it dramatically.
As mentioned above the conductor for this release is the composer's son Urs Joseph Flury, who leads the Swiss Biel/Bienne Symphony Orchestra. He gets stirring accounts of his father's music, in which his musicians' enthusiasm for these scores outweighs their occasional lack of technical sophistication. While the playing may not be that of the world-renowned Orchestra of the Suisse Romande (see 31 July 2013), as we've noted before with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here!
Made at some undisclosed location presumably last year, the recordings project a large soundstage in a reverberant venue. The instrumental timbre is serviceable but a bit steely in the highs. The violin is well captured and balanced against the orchestra.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P131021)
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Lindberg, M.: Vn Conc 1, Jubilees (6, orch), Souvenir; P.Kuusisto/Lindberg/Tapiola Sinfta [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
We've told you about several superb clarinet concertos by Finnish composers (see 21 September 2011), including that of Magnus Lindberg (b. 1958) dating from 2002, and here's his equally outstanding first one for violin. It's coupled with two of his other symphonic selections, which are the only recordings of either currently available on disc.
Commissioned to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's (1756-1791) birth in 2006, the concerto is in three connected movements which have the same clarity and melodic inventiveness that characterized its clarinet predecessor. The opening one [T-1] begins in a dreamy state with the soloist playing a barely audible ten-note motif (TN) [00:02], which rouses a dormant tutti. A virtuosic at times combative elaboration of TN [01:29] with glissando meows from the soloist [02:25-02:40] follows. Then the music becomes more rhapsodic as the violin spins out an elastic romantic melody (ER) [04:22] related to TN.
A chromatic development [04:34] and dramatic recap [09:12] come next, bridging directly into the more introspective second movement [T-2]. Here soloist and tutti engage in a searching exchange that builds to a romantic climax with a challenging extended cadenza [05:40-09:17]. The latter also serves to introduce the final movement [T-3], which is a brief bubbling "bravura" exercise for both soloist and orchestra. It ends the concerto in highly melodic fashion with an even more romanticized reference to ER [02:46], and a brief perfunctory sustained note for violin and strings.
Jubilee first saw the light of day in 2000 as a set of six piano miniatures. The composer then orchestrated them giving us the symphonic version of 2002 that's next. As Ravel (1875-1937) did in his instrumental arrangements of piano works, Lindberg apparently adhered as closely as possible to the originals.
A brilliantly scored juxtaposition of fast odd-numbered movements and slower even ones, the twitchy first [T-4] introduces motivic material that's explored in the next five. The second, third and fourth are in turn ominous [T-5], thanks to some threatening brass, percussively peevish [T-6], and impressionistic [T-7] with celestial-sounding tuned percussion in addition to angelic woodwinds. Then we get a carping brass fifth Jubilee [T-8], and the concluding sixth [T-9] that's a whimsical counterpart of the first.
The disc is filled out with Souvenir written in 2010 while Lindberg was Composer-in-Residence to the New York Philharmonic (2009-2012). This reputedly pays homage to a couple of his teachers, namely French composer Gérard Grisey (1946-1998) and Italian Franco Donatoni (1927-2000), who wrote a piece by the same name (1967, not currently available). Although Magnus has avoided referring to any of his works as a symphony, he's said this one was conceived along those lines.
For large chamber orchestra, it's an intriguing combination of Bartok (1881-1945), Holmboe (1909-1996, see 27 May 2013), Sallinen (b. 1935, see 3 July 2008) and Salonen (b. 1958, see 28 November 2012) that to these ears comes off as a colorist happening (see 12 September 2012). And an arrestingly vivid one at that thanks to its articulate scoring!
In three movements, the first [T-10] is fractious and probably best described in the composer's own words as "a vortex, ...where events collide." Could that long pause [05:52-05:55] be the passing eye of this symphonic storm?
He then goes on to tell us the succeeding movement [T-11] "escalates into grand culminations" that would seem to be a couple of percussive outbursts [04:13, 04:56] worthy of Charles Ives' (1874-1954) wilder moments (see 21 December 2009).
The finale [T-13], which Lindberg refers to as "toccata-like" [T-12], is the shortest and most straightforward part of the work. It ends what till now has been a stream of musical consciousness with a sense of direction.
That talented family of Finnish music makers, the Kuusistos (see 22 November 2011), is again represented in these pages by youngest son Pekka, who's both soloist and conductor for the concerto. Along with the Tapiola Sinfonietta he delivers a performance of this intricate score, which edges out the only other version on disc of six years ago. The composer picks up the baton for the remaining two selections giving us what will probably be definitive readings of them for years to come.
Made in 2010 (concerto) and 2013 (Jubilee and Souvenir) in the Tapiola Hall, Espoo, Finland, except for a premature fadeout at the end of the concerto [T-3, 03:31], the recordings are demonstration quality. They project an immaculately appointed soundstage ideally tailored to the forces gathered in this superb venue.
The Ondine engineers have perfectly captured and balanced the many solo passages in these intricate scores against the rest of the orchestra. Not only that, the instrumental timbre is lifelike with translucent highs, a musical midrange, and rock-bottom transient bass. As far as conventional CDs go, audiophiles will be hard-pressed to find a better symphonic test disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y131020)
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Rutter, John: Ste...; Françaix: Hpd Conc; Glass, Ph.: Hpd Conc; Soloists/Mallon/WSideCh O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The album title "Harpsichord Concertos" on this new Naxos release is a little misleading as only two of the three works present have that instrument in a concertante role. The third is a suite featuring flute where the harpsichord is just one of the accompanying instruments. This disc is particularly welcome as other recordings of this music are hard to find, and not up to these performances.
English composer John Rutter (b.1945) is known mostly for his choral music, but here we have an elegant sample of his meager orchestral output in Suite Antique of 1979. A delicate work highlighting the flute against a baroque-sized orchestra with harpsichord continuo, it takes a cue from J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Brandenburg Concerti (1708-21) and orchestral suites (1717-39).
In six movements the initial "Prelude" [T-1] is a wistful offering where the flute sings a melancholy song with all the appeal of Samuel Barber's (1910-1981) Adagio for Strings (1936). A vivacious "Ostinato" follows [T-2], and an "Aria" [T-3] that's a somber relative of the opening movement with harpsichord embellishments.
Then Rutter gives us a change of pace with a jazzy "Waltz" [T-4] having a bossa nova beat (see 19 December 2011), and a "Chanson" [T-5] bringing Édith Piaf's (1915-1963) triste songs to mind. But skies brighten for the cheerful chirpy final "Rondo" [T-6] where flute, harpsichord and strings play tag with a couple of recurring folkish ditties.
There's a Gallic wit and saucy rigor about Jean Françaix's (1912-1997, see 31 October 2009) works that make them a favorite with connoisseurs of twentieth century French music. His Concerto for Harpsichord and Instrumental Ensemble of 1959 is no exception!
Dedicated to Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979, see 22 November 2010), who was one of his teachers, atypically it’s in five movements and begins with two toccatas. The first features an insistently infectious part for the harpsichord [T-10], while the second [T-11] has the soloist playing a continuous meandering melody to a plucky tutti accompaniment.
An andantino [T-12] that's in essence a miniscule theme with variations follows immediately [T-12]. Appearing at the outset [00:00], the subject idea is a pleadingly simple melody (PS). It's succeeded by two variants, the first being chromatically cheeky [01:16] with a reminder of PS [01:59], and the other waltzlike [02:09].
Then we get a charming minuet [T-13], which is a dialogue for soloist and tutti that becomes harmonically peripatetic. It sets the tone for the finale [T-14] that's a skittish key-searching cavort with flashes of past ideas. This ends the concerto with a hint of cyclic formality, but like so many other Françaix pieces there's a bit of tongue-in-cheek.
American Minimalism grew out of creations by self-taught New York City street musician Moondog (Louis Thomas Hardin, 1916-1999), and several highly educated composers. The latter have included La Monte Young (b. 1935), Terry Riley (b. 1935), Steve Reich (b. 1936) and Philip Glass (b. 1937, see 9 February 2006), who's a man of many talents. To wit, a plumber and cabby in the 1970s, before becoming the most widely known and prolific exponent of minimalism alive today.
Glass has never liked the "minimalist" moniker preferring to call himself a composer of "music with repetitive structures." But no matter how you describe it, for many of us this style of composition frequently abounds in litanies of trite reiterated motivic fragments that amount to "Hamburger Helper" where the meat of creativity is in short supply.
His Concerto for Harpsichord and Chamber Orchestra of 2002 is in three movements simply labeled "I", "II" and "III". The opening one [T-7] is quintessential Glass, but cadenza-like passages for the soloist [00:00, 03:24, 07:32] as well as some colorful woodwind-decorated moments will make it more palatable for minimalist detractors.
Set to a throbbing sinus rhythm there's a simplicity about the middle movement [T-8], which is the longest, harkening back to the baroque. It opens with the soloist playing a brief introduction [00:00] followed by a restrained extended idea (RE) [00:21] that’s interrupted by recurring Glassian riffs (RGs).
A lengthy harpsichord trill [02:05] gives way to an elaboration of RE which first appears in the strings [02:28], and after some more RGs, the woodwinds [05:19]. Elements of the preceding section, namely RE, are reprised a couple of times [05:54, 07:35]. Then the movement ends with more RGs and some delicate harpsichord embroidery.
Glass has written a great deal of film music, and the animated finale [T-9] would be the perfect accompaniment for some cinematic horse race. Brevity as well as colorful scoring for chugging strings, jazzy harpsichord, laughing woodwinds and melancholy horns insure this RGs-laced movement never becomes a mind-numbing minimalist merry-go-round.
One couldn't ask for better soloists than flutist John McMurtery and harpsichordist Christopher Lewis, who deliver virtuoso performances tempered with a lightness of touch suited to these scores. They receive excellent support from conductor Kevin Mallon, who gave us some spectacular Cimarosa (1749-1801) overtures a few years back (see 30 January 2008), and the West Side Chamber Orchestra. This ensemble, which makes its CLOFO debut here, proves to be a class act with every one of its members a virtuoso in their own right.
These recordings were made a year ago at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, which considering previous Naxos releases (see 27 May 2013) seems to be an ideal chamber venue. Accordingly they project an ideally proportioned, well-focused soundstage in warmly reverberant surroundings. The balance between the instruments is good, but the harpsichord could have been a tad more highlighted, thereby better showcasing Mr. Lewis' superb artistry.
The instrumental timbre is generally good with a musically convincing midrange and clean bass. But depending on your system, some may experience occasional peaks in the highs. Comparing this disc with the one referenced above, which earned an audiophile rating, it's entirely possible a different choice of microphones might have resulted in a smoother upper end.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P131019)
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Schierbeck: Fêtes galantes (cpte Opera); Skovhus/Beck/Schönwandt/DanNA CnC&SO [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (2 SACDs)
Danish-born Poul Schierbeck (1888-1949) broke off his study of law to pursue music with several private teachers that included Carl Nielsen (1865-1931, see 26 March 2010). He would then go on to become an organist, composer and instructor at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen.
While his only symphony of 1916-21 would achieve wide acclaim following its premiere in 1922 with Nielsen conducting, it's the opera Fêtes galantes (Gallant Party) featured on this new Dacapo hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release that's his crowning achievement. Set to a libretto based on an eponymous play by Max Lobedanz (1888-1961), Schierback worked on it from 1923 through 1927, later revising it in 1931-2. At that time he also added an overture, giving us the version that receives its silver disc debut here.
The title refers to the celebrated lifestyle of idle rich French aristocrats following the death of Louis XIV (1638-1715) up until the 1770s. During that period they would frequently dress up, sometimes like Italian commedia dell'arte characters, and party 24/7. This led Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) to create the fête galante style of painting, where he portrayed their frivolous antics in mythological surroundings.
Accordingly Schierbeck's three-act comic drama is an operatic Watteau that takes place in the eighteenth-century, and is about the young Count René de la Rochefoucauld's wedding at his chateau in Versailles. The flighty fetching overture [D-1, T-1], which would become the composer's most popular symphonic work, is a medley of tunes from the opera spiced with a couple of funny off-key phrases [04:15, 04:25]. It also introduces a stirring march number (SM) [03:32], whose last measures [03:57] are not too far removed from "Rule Britannia" (see the newsletter of 31 May 2010).
The first act curtain goes up revealing the magnificent main hall of the Count's palatial mansion where four friends await his arrival with the bride to be, beautiful Suzon (see the excellent album notes for a plot synopsis and Danish-English text). The scene begins with one of them singing a mundane folksy ditty (MF) [D-1, T-2, 00:00]. All then engage in some light celesta-sprinkled banter (LC) [01:00] where we learn that King Louis XV (1710-1774) is away for ten days. His absence should allow the Count to surreptitiously marry without Louis exercising his right of droit de seigneur, thereby taking Suzon's virginity.
René soon enters with his intended [D-1, T-3] and introduces her to his friends, who depart, leaving the couple to sing an amorous duet [D-1, T-4]. The two then exit stage left, and we get some comic scenes featuring that scalawag Scaramouche of commedia dell'arte fame [D-1, T-5 & 6]. These include an amusing bassoon-embellished scheming aria for him, and are followed by a couple of lovely scenes with Suzon and her maid Annette [D-1, T-7 & 8]. The act then ends uneventfully with a winsome duet for the two ladies [D-1, Tk-9].
The second act is in two tableaus and begins with a vivacious brilliantly orchestrated tarantella (VB) [D-1, T-10]. As the curtain lifts we see the same set as before, but now the Count's servants are rushing about preparing the hall for the wedding feast. They're soon joined by a parade of actors that include Scaramouche's wife, La Scaramouche, along with some musicians, all of whom come and go like characters in a Marx Brothers' movie. There are many tables heaped with all sorts of goodies, which a couple of humorous cock-a-doodle-doos [04:48] would seem to imply include some coq au vin.
Then we get an engaging ensemble number for the Scaramouches and Count's friends [D-1, T-11, 12 & 13], the middle of which is a clever vocal theme and variations with some coloratura embroidery. There's also a catchy Latin-flavored exchange between Scaramouche and Suzon [D-1, T-14], where the composer reinforces the line "When the back of a great man breaks" with a cheeky percussive pop [01:01]!
Now husband and wife, a dramatic confrontation between Suzon and René concerning their marriage document [D-1, T-16] comes next. This piece of paper figures heavily in the plot, but details about it are best left to the album notes.
The two then leave to join the wedding feast, and there’s the sound of military trumpets in the distance [04:19] followed by the reappearance of the Scaramouches [D-1, T-17]. They engage in a dynamic duet during which we hear SM [01:45] indicating the return of the Royal Guard and King Louis.
With the droit de seigneur issue in mind, Scaramouche observes this may well spell deep trouble for the newlyweds. The tableau then closes with an orchestral interlude that's a glorious reprise of SM [D-1, T-18]. This slowly fades into the distance, ending the first disc.
The next one begins with the concluding tableaux of the second act where the curtain goes up on the wedding feast now in full progress [D-2, T-1]. High points include a comic song and dance routine for La Scaramouche and the guests [D-2, T-2] set to a VB-related melody.
There are further plot machinations [D-2, T-3 & 4] with René challenging one of his associates to a duel [D-2, T-5], which could mean further trouble with the King as dueling was illegal in France at the time. The act then ends with an emotional exchange of touching one-liners between the Count and Suzon [D-2, T-6].
The last act begins [D-2, T-7] with the orchestra playing an arresting repeated riff (AR) [00:00] which reinforces an underlying ominous melody [00:17]. AR also dramatizes a succeeding emotional aria for René [01:45] where he affirms his love for Suzon.
At this point a notary named Pascal Dumont arrives [D-2, T-8], and the plot becomes involved with details concerning the Count's marriage document [D-2, T-9], as well as the duel now about to take place [D-2, T-10]. On top of all that Scaramouche announces the arrival of the King and his retinue [D-2, T-11], who appear to a drumroll [00:01] followed by a regal outburst from the orchestra [00:03].
Having been told it's all in jest, Louis amiably preempts the duel, but expresses his displeasure at not being invited to the wedding. However, all is soon forgiven as the King, believing La Scaramouche to be René's bride, leaves with her in great pomp for a few hours of "droit de seigneur" [D-2, T-12] at the royal palace.
All the loose ends are tied up in the concluding ensemble numbers, the first of which [D-2, T-13] begins with a phrase that may sound familiar [00:03]. It could almost be the opening of that ever popular World War I (1914-8) marching song "Pack Up Your Troubles..." (1915), which the composer must have known from his days as a lieutenant during that conflict.
Be that as it may, the opera's closing moments include a final tender scene between René and Suzon [D-2, T-15]. In it they become reconciled over past differences, singing a love duet made all the more romantic by a cinematic wordless chorus [D-2, T-16].
They then exit stage left as three of the Count's friends and Dumont enter from the other side. They place the newlyweds' marriage document (see above) on a writing table, where it's prominently displayed between two candles [D-2, T-17], and reprise MF [00:14]. The opera then ends with some ethereal "ahs" from the chorus, leaving one feeling "they all lived happily ever after."
The cast includes soprano Dénise Beck (Suzon), mezzo-soprano Andrea Pellegrini (La Scaramouche), alto Henriette Elimar (Annette), tenors Michael Weinius (René), Gert Henning-Jensen (King Louis XV) and Christian Damsgaard (Dumont), not to mention renown baritone Bo Skovhus (Scaramouche). All are in magnificent voice for this tasty Danish operatic pastry!
Conductor Michael Schönwandt gets superb accounts from them as well as seven other soloists along with the Danish National Concert Choir and Symphony Orchestra. While Schierbeck's masterpiece had to wait some fifty years for this recorded revival, the composer couldn't have better advocates than the performers assembled here.
Calling for fourteen soloists, chorus and a large orchestra, the opera presents a considerable recording challenge, but the Danish engineers have met it head on! Made in one of the world's finest venues, the Danish National Radio's Koncerthuset (Concert Hall), Copenhagen, the CD and SACD stereo tracks project a magnificently proportioned soundstage in an ideal acoustic. The multichannel version will give you a center seat.
The balance between vocalists and orchestra is ideal throughout. There is a hint of upper end digital grain on the CD track, but it's a bit less pronounced with the two SACD ones. The midrange is very natural sounding, and the lows exceptionally clean in all three play modes. Opera recordings don't get much better than this -- audiophiles take note!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y131018)
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Zandonai: Andalusian Conc (vc) & 5 Other Orch Wks; Chbr Wks; Songs; Soloists/TrentZanEn O [Tactus]
RECOMMENDED (3 CDs)
Mention Francesca da Rimini and everyone immediately thinks of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) symphonic fantasy dating from 1876. But the subject matter also inspired Italian composer Riccardo Zandonai (1883-1944) to create an opera by that name (1914), which remains his best known work. However, the nonoperatic selections in this three disc album reveal his considerable talent for writing in other genres, and one can only wonder why it's taken so long for them to surface. Except for the string quartet, these are the only recordings currently available on disc.
The first CD is devoted to works for small orchestra, the major one being his Concerto andaluso (“Andalusian Concerto) for cello from 1934. Immaculately scored with a percussion section that includes harpsichord, castanets, triangle, cymbals and a basque drum, it's in three movements. The opening "Seguidillas" [D-1, T-6] is a delightful Latin offering, while the proud "Malaguenas" [D-1, T-7] may bring Falla's (1876-1946) El amor brujo (Love, the Magician; 1914-15) to mind.
The animated finale [D-1, T-8] is based on a couple of Iberian-sounding melodies, and includes an anguished cadenza [05:28-07:45]. The concerto then ends with an ecstatic bravura coda for soloist and tutti.
The disc is filled out with five shorter pieces, the first being Sinfonietta settecentesca (18th Century Sinfonietta) [D-1, T-1]. Derived from music he wrote for a Venetian carnival scene in the 1938 film La Principessa Tarakanova, stylistically it's a throwback to classical times, and along the lines of Luigi Mancinelli's (1848-1921) Venetian Scenes (1877, see 20 June 2013), Volkmar Andreae's (1879-1962) Little Suite (1917, see 13 July 2012), and Victor de Sabata's (1892-1967) 1934 incidental music for The Merchant of Venice (see 13 July 2012).
Next up, a berceuse for strings [D-1, T-2] dating from his student days (1900). There's an understatement and sense of confidence here that promise much greater things to come.
The three selections that follow are mood pieces with substantial solos for cello and flute. All have exotic Eastern impressionistic moments similar to those found in Ravel. The first titled Serenata medioevale (Medieval Serenade, 1909) [D-1, T-3] opens with dark ominous horn calls, but the scene brightens with radiant solo passages for violin, flute, harp and cello. The work then ends elegiacally.
Spleen (Melancholia, 1934) [D-1, T-4] is a wistful cantilena for cello and orchestra that would seem to express the composer's nostalgia for bygone days. It must rank as one of Riccardo's most profound pieces.
The composer borrows a couple of thematic ideas from his Francesca... for the next Il flauto notturno (The Night Flute, c. 1933) [D-1, T-5]. This begins with a pianistic recreation of ominous tolling bells [00:02], and a despondent cello passage (DC) [00:10]. The flute then picks up on DC [01:05] infusing it with a bit of optimism.
But DC returns [04:48] chastening the flute which reappears in a more subdued role [05:14]. Some dreamy developmental afterthoughts ensue in a brilliant Ravelian orchestrated passage [06:07], and then this Stygian essay ends as soloist and orchestra fade into the nocturnal mists. Do you suppose Zandonai knew American composer Arthur Foote's (1853-1937) Nocturne and Scherzo for Flute and String Quartet "A Night Piece" of 1918?
The remaining CDs feature some of the composer's chamber music including his only string quartet, which is the lead-off item on the next disc. An early effort dating from 1904, it's in the usual four movements, and begins with an allegro [D-2, T-1]. This has a couple of memorable ideas treated with a skill and sophistication comparable to that found in Dvorak's (1841-1904) late quartets.
Whimsical and impish, the scherzo [D-2, T-2] is singularly Zandonai, while the adagio [D-2, T-3] has more of that introspection frequenting the selections on the first CD. However, all cares are banished in the final sonata form allegro [D-2, T-4], which is based on an arresting skittish theme [00:01] followed by a more reserved idea [01:10]. A key-swept development follows [02:17], and then a recap [03:44] concluding the quartet in high spirits.
Jumping ahead to the end of his career, we get the composer's last work, the Trio - Serenata for violin, cello and piano of 1943. The most progressive piece here, the initial chromatically haunting "moderato" [D-2, T-5] is impressionistic, and headed towards the world of expressionism. The composer's failing health seems to infect this movement, which ends in some deathly pauses [06:19, 06:53, 07:27] and an unresolved state.
The next "tempo di valzer" [D-2, T-6] is a lyrical interlude that borders on the antic, and is a bit of sunshine on an otherwise overcast day. But clouds return for the final movement [D-2, T-7], which is morose and anxiety-ridden. It concludes the trio with a failing heartbeat [06:48], another one of those pauses [07:14], and a tearful ending [07:22].
The last selection is Scena degli uccellini - Canzone (Scene with Birds - Song) [D-2, T-8], which is a brief salon piece for string trio (1938) based on more of the music from La Principessa Tarakanova mentioned above. In two parts the wistful introduction [00:02] is followed by a charming canto with pizzicato spicing that closes this disc on a lighter note.
The third and final CD starts off with three occasional solo piano pieces, which have commercial connections. The first two, Sera (Evening, 1904) [D-3, T-1] and Tempo di valzer (Waltz Time, 1914) [D-3, T-2], were commissioned by popular magazines, while the third, Telefunken (1929) [D-3, T-3], was written for the well-known German company of that name. Tailored for amateurs, these delightful romantic parlor twinkies have a charm all of their own, and the sponsors most assuredly got their money's worth!
Next we get a sampling of five Zandonai songs for soprano with piano accompaniment. Unfortunately no dates, poets or texts are provided, so there's not much to say about them except they're all winners.
The first Ninna nanna (Lullaby) [D-3, T-4] is captivatingly simple, while more of those tolling bells pervade the forlorn Ariette [D-3, T-5]. Notti di Agosto (August Nights ) [D-3, T-6] is a lyrical nocturne caressed by gentle winds, and Dormi, mia bella, dormi (Sleep, My Beauty, Sleep) [D-3, T-7] effectively invokes the sandman. The wordless Vocalizzo (Vocalise) [D-3, T-8] is the Latin equivalent of Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) eponymous piece (1912-5).
The album concludes with something that began as a symphonic poem, but eventually saw the light of day as an extended five-part piano piece known as Primavera in Val di Sole (Spring in Val di Sole,1915). The composer's four-handed arrangement made a couple of years later is offered here.
Loosely structured like one of Percy Grainger's (1882-1961) rambles (see 20 June 2013), it's a pastoral tone painting describing one of Northern Italy's most scenic areas. The opening "Alba triste" ("Sad Sunrise") [D-3, T-9] is dominated by a somber motif [00:09], which except for a dramatic central segment [03:46-07:24] renders it sinister and foreboding. The following "Il ruscello" ("The Stream" [D-3, T-10] begins as a babbling brook that becomes a leisurely mountain stream.
"L'eco" ("Echo") [D-3, T-11] is a fetching essay having hypnotic repeated phrases, while the occasionally impressionistic "Nel bosco" ("In the Woods") [D-3, T-12] takes the form of a sylvan episode with shifting patches of sunlight and twittering forest birds. The latter somewhat outstays its welcome, but not the final "Sciame de farfalle" ("A Swarm of Butterflies") [D-3, T-13], which is a delicate note-ridden creation representing a fluttering cloud of swallowtails.
This album is somewhat a family production featuring the talents of Giancarlo, Stefano and Margherita Guarino. Giancarlo conducts the Trento Zandonai Ensemble Orchestra in superb accounts of the selections on the first CD assisted by Stefano on cello and flutist Jessica Dalsant.
Giancarlo then puts down the baton and picks up a violin for the three chamber selections on the second disc. He's joined by Stefano on cello along with violist Luca Martini in Scena..., and violinist Andrea Ferroni for the quartet. In the trio he's accompanied by Stefano at the piano and Margherita playing cello. All are first rate performances.
The third CD features Stefano as pianist throughout. First for the three opening solo pieces, and next in the role of accompanist for Margherita, who's our vocalist for the songs. He's then joined by Giancarlo for the concluding four-handed Primavera... selection.
Margherita's singing is not that of Angela Gheorghiu (b. 1965) or Cecilia Bartoli (b. 1966), but we're lucky to have this invaluable sampling of canzoni by such a rarely heard composer. Be that as it may she, Stefan and Giancarlo prove themselves skilled string players, and both signori are excellent pianists.
Made almost ten years ago at the Zandonai Auditorium in Rovereto, Italy, the recordings present appropriately sized soundstages for the various groups involved in an accommodating acoustic. A good balance between the various soloists and accompanists is maintained throughout.
The instrumental and vocal timbre is uniformly clear with some digital grain in the highs, but a musical midrange, and clean lows. In short, while not demonstration quality, the sound is a tad better than average. Pointy-eared listeners may detect what may be some piano action noise on the second disc [D-2, T-7, beginning at 07:22].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P131017)
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Zyman: Pno Conc; Rolón: Pno Conc, Feast of the Dwarfs (sym scherzo); Corona/Bühl/Nurem S [TYXart]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
It's been awhile since we've featured any Mexican music (see 25 May 2011), so these two piano concertos along with an occasional symphonic piece by Samuel Zyman (b. 1956) and José Rolón (1876-1945) are timely additions. Both composers received their early training in Mexico with Zyman going on to finish his studies at the Juilliard School in New York City, where he teaches to this day.
Rolón would further his musical education in Paris with Polish pianist-composer Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), and later Paul Dukas (1865-1935) as well as Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979, see 22 November 2010). As presented here these are the only currently available recordings of the three works.
Originally calling for a chamber orchestra, the version of the Zyman piano concerto (no date given) done here is for a full-size one. In three movements it opens with a rhythmically driven allegro [T-1]. This has demanding virtuosic writing for the piano that includes a killer cadenza [06:46-09:42], as well as challenging parts for the woodwinds, bassoon in particular, and cello. The movement finishes with a bravura display for the soloist [11:08] soon joined by the tutti [12:01] that ends the movement dramatically.
The adagio [T-2] movement begins with a lovely serenade featuring solos for clarinet, horn, violin, oboe and cello. One begins to think the piano is sitting this one out, but it finally reappears [03:01] picking up on the foregoing.
It introduces a couple of rhythmically urgent moments [03:41, 04:41], and then the cello casts a soporific spell over all [05:09] concluding the movement in the land of Wynken, Blynken, and Nod. However, more fireworks for soloist as well as tutti enliven the final presto [T-3], which except for a brief introspective central episode [02:26-03:37], ends the concerto excitedly.
Turning to Rolón's music, we get a complete change of mood with his symphonic scherzo entitled El festin de los enanos (Feast of the Dwarfs, 1925), which went through a couple of iterations. Originally written in 1914 as Scherzo de los enanos (Scherzo of the Dwarfs), it would become the third movement of his E minor symphony completed in 1923, and then be reworked into the stand alone orchestral piece presented here [T-4].
The story behind it is based on an old legend involving dwarfs, a peasant and an orphan, which the composer represents with melodies from three Mexican folk songs related to similar subjects. Despite these nationalistic borrowings, stylistically speaking Rolón produces a work of great individuality that also reflects his years in France. The end result is a Latin American counterpart of Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1895-6). The concluding forte chords [07:46] are almost identical to those ending that beloved French classic.
In 1928 while he was in Paris Rolón begin work on a piano concerto, which wasn't completed until 1935. It closes out this release, and our pianist Claudia Corona has gone back to the original manuscript for the version presented here. Once again Mexican folk elements are present, but as in the preceding piece the composer uses them only as Latin American flavoring for a work that's basically of European neoclassical persuasion.
In three movements the initial allegro [T-5] bustles with Caribbean rhythms anticipating Carlos Chavez' (1916-1983) later music, while at the same time having a melodic intricacy worthy of Ravel (1875-1937). There's never an idle moment as soloist and tutti battle it out in a series of virtuosic piano passages interspersed with percussion-spiked orchestral ones. The movement then ends on a sustained horn note.
This segues into the slow movement [T-6], which begins with a laid-back five-note motif (LF) on the bassoon [00:00]. LF is expanded into a winsome pastoral theme (WP) [01:07] presumably of Mexican folk origin. It undergoes a development having a dramatic forte episode that fades away concluding the movement uneventfully.
But the hectic pace of the opening allegro resumes in the final one [T-7], where an infectious, WP-derived tune (IW) [00:05] chases its own tail in rondo fashion. There are developmental keyboard pyrotechnics throughout, and the concerto ends with an ecstatic reminder of IW [08:54].
Mexican pianist Claudia Corona, who will be new to most, makes a strong impression with this release. A technically brilliant performer, her articulate phrasing, carefully judged dynamics and innate sense of Latin rhythms ensure superb interpretations of both concertos. She receives outstanding support from German conductor Gregor Bühl and the Nuremburg Symphony, who also give us a winning rendition of the scherzo.
Made earlier this year in the Musiksaal of the Congress Hall, Nuremberg, Germany, these recordings present a somewhat recessed soundstage in a warm acoustic. Soloist and tutti are well balanced, but the piano's lower registers seem a bit veiled. On the other hand, the orchestra in all three pieces is characterized by bright highs and low clean bass. Bottom line, while this disc won't win any audiophile awards, the sound is quite acceptable, and with rarities like these we're lucky to have what’s here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P131016)
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