CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
16 DECEMBER 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.
Fesca, F.: Cpte Stg Qts V1 (1, 2, 3. 7, 8, 9, 13, 15, Potpourri 2); Diogenes Qt [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (3 CDs)
CPO continues their revival of unjustly neglected composers with another release devoted to German-born and trained Friederich Ernst Fesca's (1789-1826, see 9 August 2007) music. The first installment of a complete series devoted to all his sixteen string quartets, this three-CD album has eight of them as well as one of the three Potpourris he wrote for that group of instruments. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Highly popular in their day, these works like those of his contemporaries Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837) (see the newsletters of 30 January 2008), Georges Onslow (1784-1853), Ferdinand Ries (1784-1838, see the newsletter of 28 November 2012), and Louis Spohr (1784-1859) vanished from concert programs not long after the appearance of Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets (1810-1826). Judging by the quality of what's here, had Fesca not died prematurely a year before Beethoven, that might not have been the case with any he might have written after the Bonn master's demise.
An essay published in 1818 by his fellow composer Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826, see the informative album notes) probably best sums up the stylistic attributes of Fesca's quartets. Paraphrasing it, he refers to them as extensions of Haydn (1732-1809) and Mozart (1756-1791) with emotionally rich, tender melodies. He also alludes to their having a hint of wit unlike those of Spohr, who wrote thirty-four that many of us find pretty mundane by today's standards.
Weber also notes the presence of an emotional depth, intelligent sense of development, and colorful harmonic structure worthy of Beethoven but without his volatility. Finally he comments on the frequently dazzling writing for the first violin, noting it never overpowers the other instruments. This characteristic is not surprising considering Fesca was one of the most outstanding violinists of his day.
All of the quartets here are in four movements, and a detailed analysis of them can be found in the extensive album notes. Numbers 1, 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9 probably date from between 1808 and 1816 with the initial three having all the charm of late Mozart. Highpoints include the opening allegro of the first quartet [D-1, T-1], which is a sonata form masterpiece with a couple of exemplary themes.
Then there's the last movement of the second that's a fetching theme and variations [D-1, T-8] with a mesmerizing subject melody that undergoes four imaginative transformations. As for the third quartet, you'll find the leading allegro [D-2, T-1] a tuneful emotional offering as opposed to the engaging skittish final rondo [D-2, T-4]. This is built around a captivating two-part theme (CT) [00:00 & 01:08] that never wears out its welcome. Fesca knew when he had a good thing, because he'd later use it as the basis for the Potpourri also included here (see below).
The next three quartets are more harmonically daring and headed towards Mendelssohn (1809-1847).This is evident in the seventh, which begins with a sonata form allegro [D-2, T-5] dominated by a couple of dynamic motifs. While the eighth's featherlight scherzo and concluding presto are of Midsummer Night's Dream (1842) temperament.
The ninth has an initial singing allegro [D-3, T-9] foreshadowing Schubert's (1797-1828) late quartets (1820-26). But the work's capstone is an ingenious sonata form finale having a fugal exposition [D-3, T-12] that's in some ways a tiny precursor of Beethoven's Grosse Fuga (1825-6).
Fesca's later efforts are represented by his thirteenth and fifteenth quartets, probably written around 1817 and 1824 respectively. Both are even more advanced with an increased sense of chromatic freedom as well as greater structural integrity.
This is very apparent in the thirteenth's opening allegro moderato [D-3, T-1], which is on a par with Beethoven's later quartets. That and a heartfelt larghetto [D-3, T-2], cultivated menuetto [D-3, T-3] as well as a nostalgic, bordering on melancholic allegretto finale [D-3, T-4] make it hard to understand why music of this caliber was so long forgotten.
The fifteenth finds the composer in a light folksy frame of mind right from its beginning sonata form allegro [D-3, T-5], which is based on a couple of delicate lyrical ideas. A lullaby-like andante [D-3, T-6] and itchy scherzo [D-3, T-7] follow.
Then there's a bit of that wit referred to above in the playful final allegro [D-3, T-8]. This begins with a sforzando-accented drone bass and bumptious tune mimicking old time bagpipe and hurdy-gurdy street music. The movement is made all the more humorous by some stealthy pizzicato and a droll conclusion recalling its opening measures.
As an encore we get the Potpourri No. 2 for solo violin and string trio probably composed around 1816 [D-1, T-9]. This opens with sustained chords for the trio underpinning a cadenza-like passage played by the violin. The soloist then launches into CT [00:40] borrowed from the finale of the third quartet mentioned above. Three delightful developmental variants of it follow [03:12, 04:46 & 06:20], and then the piece ends full circle with a nostalgic reminder of CT's opening measures [07:34].
Once again the Diogenes Quartet is instrumental in unearthing some chamber music treasures that have been buried far too long (see 25 April 2012)! They play these Fesca finds with a loving sensitivity that puts this album up there with CPO's most noteworthy releases of 2013. The only reservation would be an occasional hint of intonational queasiness in the violins.
These recordings were coproduced with Bavarian Radio and made at one of their Munich studios over a three year period (2007-10). Generally speaking they project well-focused sonic images in a nourishing acoustic, and the string tone is quite natural. That said, more pointy-eared listeners may find the soundstages for the second, ninth and fifteenth quartets a tad more spacious with silkier violins. In conclusion, chamber music lovers as well as any audiophiles among them won’t be disappointed!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y131216)
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Juon: Va Sons 1 & 2, Trio-Miniaturen (cl, va, pno), Romanze (va, pno); Killian/Shiraga/Wachter [Musicap]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
"The Russian Brahms" epithet has been used in conjunction with Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915, see 31 July 2013) and Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936, see 12 April 2012). However, it seems much better suited to Pavel Fyodorovich Yuon, better known as Paul Juon (1872-1940, pronounced "you-one"); whose music has only recently begun to resurface (see 28 November 2012).
Born in Moscow of a Swiss father and German mother, he'd get his early musical training at the conservatory there, where Taneyev as well as Anton Arensky (1861-1906, see 16 August 2010) were among his teachers. Then in 1894 he moved to Berlin and completed his studies, journeying back to Russia in 1896. A couple of years later, missing the intellectual stimulation he'd experienced in Germany, Juon returned to Berlin and taught composition until 1934 when he retired to Switzerland.
With a background like that it's not surprising to find his works have a Germanic structural rigor along with Slavic melodic and rhythmic elements stemming from his self-confessed love of Russian folk music. This is evident in his chamber oeuvres, some of which we're treated to on this enterprising new release from Musicaphone. As presented here all of the selections except for the first sonata are the only recordings currently available on disc.
The "Brahms" sobriquet most assuredly applies to the three-movement first viola sonata of 1901, which opens with a moderato [T-1]. This has an alternately flowing and agitated idea (FA) [00:00] that's briefly elaborated. Then a wistful melody [01:23] follows leading to a refined harmonic as well as thematic development, and the movement closes with a brief coda recalling the first measures.
The ternary form adagio's [T-2] outer sections are based on a dark tune that recalls Brahms (1833-1897), and surround a fickle central episode FC [03:11] anticipating the final allegro [T-3]. Thematically and structurally this harkens back to the first movement, closing with a final reminder of FA [04:43]. This gives the sonata a strong sense of symmetry around FC.
The second viola sonata dating from 1923 is an alternate version of one for clarinet composed that same year (currently unavailable on disc). In a single modified sonata form movement [T-4], it's harmonically as well as structurally much more advanced than its predecessor, and begins with a saturnine thematic nexus (ST) [00:00] having a folksy seven-note riff (FS) [01:10]. ST is then elaborated and followed by a relaxed lyrical melody (RL) [02:10]. This transitions into a perky scherzoesque episode (PS) [03:29] succeeded by a contemplative melancholic one (CM) [05:55], both of which are developmental extensions of previous ideas.
The music then pivots around a capricious turning point [09:08], and we get a recap of CM [09:52] with hints of FS [11:09] followed by RL [12:11], PS [13:57] and ST [15:42]. Except for FS and PS, the thematic components return in reverse order producing a sense of symmetry like that in the preceding sonata.
In 1918-20 Juon came up with his Trio-Minaturen suite, whose four movements are reworkings of previous keyboard pieces. The first three come from nine solo piano miniatures known as Satyre und Nymphen (Satyrs and Nymphs, 1901; currently unavailable on disc), while the fourth is based on the last of five Tanzrhythmen (Dance Rhythms, 1903-4) for piano four hands. The most Slavic-sounding opus here, it leaves no doubt about the composer's Russian roots!
The initial "Rêverie" [T-6] is a lovely lied with a rustic autumnal glow where the clarinet doesn't appear until over a third of the way through the piece [01:38]. "Humoresque" [T-7] could be a Cossack dance, while "Elegie" [T-8] is a gorgeous folk-like melody. A charming waltz with Slavic overtones entitled "Danse phantastique" brings the trio to a spirited close.
The disc concludes with Romanze for viola and piano of 1898-9 [T-5] based on the last variation in the second movement of Juon's first violin sonata (1898). He pays homage to Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) by hinting at one of the most popular melodies ever written, the barcarole entitled “June” in the latter's piano masterpiece The Seasons (aka The Months, 1875-6).
While Swiss violist Roswitha Killian delivers committed performances, her intonation is not the equal of her English counterparts Roger Chase and Sarah-Jane Bradley, whom we've previously lauded in these pages (see 25 February 2013 and 23 September 2013). Fortunately Fumiko Shiraga's brilliant keyboard artistry holds everything together, and Rupert Wachter's ligneous clarinet tone makes the trio.
Made at Toscanasaal in the imposing south German, eigthteenth century Würzburg Residence Palace, the venue is superb and the sonic image projected well focused but a bit distant. The instrumental balance is good; however, the overall timbre tends towards the lean side with an occasional upper edge.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P131215)
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Vaughan Williams: 3 Imprsns, Mayor… Ste, 3 Songs of..., 4 Hymns, etc; Soloists/Daniel/RLiver PO [Albion]
SUGGESTED (1 CD)
Some additional rarely heard music of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) finds its way onto this recent release from Albion Records (see 21 September 2011), the official label of the RVW Society. Coming at the beginning (1902) and end (1951) of his career, two of the selections are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The program begins with Three Impressions for Orchestra (WPR) edited by composer-arranger James Francis Brown (b. 1969), who also realized a few bars missing from the first one. Written between 1902 and 1907, there's a Germanic intensity present, undoubtedly stemming from VW's discovery of Wagner (1813-1883) and subsequent academic pursuits in Berlin (1897-8). This would moderate when he adopted a more delicate style of composition after his studies with Ravel (1875-1937) in 1908.
But even at this early stage in his career, folk influences are present. They augur his fascination with music of the British countryside, which would rival Leos Janácek (1854-1928) and Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) for that of Eastern Europe. The opening "Burley Heath" (1902-3) [T-1] is a pastoral tone painting limning an area in the district of New Forest along England's southern shore. It's easy to imagine sounds of morning birds, gentle noontime breezes, and an auburn sunset. The composer would recycle some of this material in his London Symphony (No. 2) of 1913-20.
The next impression, "The Solent" [T-2], is a major discovery that many will find the high point of this release. Inspired by and named after the usually calm strait between the southern coast of New Forest (see above) and Isle of Wight's north shore, it dates from 1902-3. The lovely liquescent clarinet melody (LL) [00:01] heard at the beginning will dominate the entire section. VW would later use it in the first movement of A Sea Symphony (No. 1, 1903-9), as well as the andante for the ninth (1956-7).
An expansion of LL follows, presaging passages in the rhapsodies and fantasias soon to come. The music then builds to a couple of stirring climaxes bringing to mind powerful ocean swells [02:23] circled by piping seabirds [04:23]. But the relaxed mood of the opening finally returns, and memories of LL conclude this Vaughan Williams gem in what could be a gorgeous sunset.
Moving just north of New Forest to the district of Wiltshire, we get "Harnham Down" [T-3] composed between 1904 and 1907. Located near Salisbury, the composer spent an enjoyable holiday here, which led him to write this moving tonal remembrance of the area. The most introspective and Wagnerian of the three impressions, it came at a time when VW criticized his own music as having become stodgy and overly Teutonic. But those reservations seem misplaced here, and more in line with the Four Hymns... discussed below.
In 1902-4 VW wrote nine Songs of Travel, which are settings of poems chosen from Robert Louis Stevenson's (1850-1894) eponymous collection published in 1896. Originally for baritone and piano, in 1905 the composer came up with orchestral accompaniments for the first, third and last of these, which appear next (see the album notes for their texts as well as the other vocal selections below).
The initial one entitled "The Vagabond" [T-4] is an austere poem set to a fateful march, but an inner joy pervades "The Roadside Fire" [T-5] featuring a killer VW tune. The concluding "Bright is the Ring of Words" [T-6] ends this all too brief cycle with a sense of majesty worthy of Elgar (1857-1934) and a final nostalgic afterthought.
The work that follows, Four Hymns for Tenor, Viola Obbligato and Strings (1912-4), is a histrionic cousin of Five Mystical Songs (1911) and Flos Campi (Flower of the Field, 1925). The opening "Lord! Come away!" [T-7] zealously invokes Christ to enter Jerusalem and expel those money-changers from the temple. Then we get "Who is the fair one?" [T-8], which comes off as an arcane devotion set to a melody of nursery song simplicity.
While both concluding hymns have lovely viola introductions, "Come Love, Come Lord" [T-9] turns into an inscrutable exaltation, and the more animated "Evening Hymn" (or "O Gladsome Light") [T-10] a florid encomium. They end this cycle in a state of religious infatuation.
Going from the sublime to the ridiculous, the Weyhill Fair Song (WF) based on a folk ditty entitled "The Wearing of the Horns" follows [T-11]. Sung here by a baritone, the composer used it in his incidental music for the 1951 BBC Radio serialization of Thomas Hardy's (1840-1928) novel The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886). Apparently it appeared at the beginning of the story in conjunction with a drunken scene involving the main male protagonist.
A three-part suite condensed from the music for these programs comes next (WPR), beginning with a section titled "Casterbridge" [T-12]. This opens with one the composer's favorite Christmas carols (FC), which appears three more times in different guises. The succeeding intermezzo [T-13] has streaks of FC and a cool detachment recalling the Sinfonia antartica (No. 7, 1949-52). The suite then ends with "Weyhill Fair" [T-14] consisting of five jagged motifs from the series played in tandem with brief intervening pauses. All are related to WF above.
The disc concludes with Prelude on an Old Carol Tune of 1952 [T-15] drawn from VW's Casterbridge music and FC in particular. It makes an ideal epitaph for one of England's greatest composers.
Baritone Roland Wood gives a magnificent account of the songs; however, there are problems with tenor Andrew Kennedy’s rendition of the hymns. More specifically, he delivers a faithful account of the music, but his voice as captured here has an annoying upper edge (see the audio commentary below). Both receive strong support from conductor Paul Daniel and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic orchestra, who go on to play the other orchestral selections with great aplomb.
Made in April at The Friary in Liverpool, the recordings project a broad, deep soundstage in an accommodating acoustic. The instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, a musical midrange, and clean bass. Both vocalists and violist Nicholas Bootiman are well balanced against the orchestra, but as noted above, there's an unpleasant stridency about Mr. Kennedy’s high notes. This is undoubtedly related to technical aspects of the recording rather than anything inherent in his voice.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, S131214)
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Kantelinen: Snow Queen (cpte bal); Kantelinen/FinNaOp O [Ondine]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Ondine gets the holiday season off to a magnificent start with the world premiere recording of a new Christmas ballet suite by Finnish composer Tuomas Kantelinen (b. 1969), who's best known for his award-winning film scores. Drawn from his Lumikuningatar (The Snow Queen), which he completed last year for the ninetieth anniversary of the Finnish National Ballet, it's based on Hans Christian Andersen's (1805-1875) fairy tale of the same name (1844).
The composer tells us he wanted to write melodic, accessible music in the tradition of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) The Nutcracker (1891-2), which would fill audiences of all ages with the yuletide spirit. Judging from the twenty-five captivating selections of varying form and ethnic persuasion comprising the suite, he's succeeded admirably!
The ballet has a scenario involving the eternal struggle between good and evil as experienced by a little boy (Kai) and girl (Kerttu), who are devoted playmates. Set at three different locations, it begins in early twentieth century Helsinki.
The suite's first number, which is simply called "Opening" [T-1], commences with a threatening seismic roll for tam-tam and bass drum that'll rattle closet doors. A haunting passage follows, recalling foreboding moments in Sibelius' (1865-1957) later works. This would seem to characterize the sinister happenings at the outset of Andersen's story involving a malevolent mirror made by a troll who's the Scandinavian equivalent of Satan.
But the mood soon brightens with the next three selections which introduce the children. The perky first could represent Kai and Kerttu at play [T-2]. The second, a gorgeous melody invoking the innocence of childhood (IC) [T-3], will become the ballet's big tune. The third, set in Helsinki's busy marketplace, is a bustling number with Slavic folk overtones [T-4]. It's followed by a lovely "Evening Song" based on IC [T-5], and an ominous episode related to that malicious mirror [T-6].
The brief dreamy transitional passage that's next [T-7] is succeeded by a driving "Snow Storm" [T-8]. Kantelinen then pays homage to Tchaikovsky's "Waltz of the Snowflakes" from The Nutcracker with a tintinnabular "Snow Waltz" [T-9] and "Dance of the Snowflakes" [T-11], which sports some of the most rhythmically infectious scoring in the entire ballet. Between these numbers a heartbroken Kerttu begins "Searching for Kai" [T-10], who unbeknownst to her has been abducted by the Snow Queen, and now resides in her palace.
Accordingly the action shifts via some introspective, bird-call-enhanced music titled "The Journey Starts" [T-12] to that formidable monarch's realm. Here Kerttu seeks her playmate among the Queen's subjects represented by five invigorating ethnic dances. Modelled sequentially after Swedish [T-13], Spanish [T-14], Persian [T-15], Japanese [T-16] and Russian [T-17] folk sources, they feature a variety of instruments besides those usually found in a symphony orchestra.
Then with the help of a reindeer -- Rudolph? -- she's transported to Lapland where several of the dancers represent fairy tale creatures from the Finnish national epic known as The Kalevala (1835, see 28 February 2010) [T-18]. Here we get a charming lullaby [T-19], and somewhat martial-sounding "Sauna" selection [T-20] with shouts from members of the orchestra [T-20].
The rapturous "Inner Beauty" that's next [T-21] would seem to imply the children have found each other. While the bellicose "Final Battle" [T-22] is unexplained in the album notes and remains a mystery. Oddly enough it seems stylistically related to Sir Arthur Bliss' (1891-1975) music for the 1936 film Things to Come, and has a phrase [03:51] similar to one in the stirring march from that early science fiction epic.
Presumably it's back to Helsinki for a moving nostalgic last "Pas de deux" [T-23] featuring an even more romanticized version of IC [05:06]. An exciting "Children's Dance" [T-24] follows, which could easily represent a whirling carousel with elegantly decorated rising and falling horses. Simply referred to as "The End" [T-25], the suite concludes with the briefest of epilogues that recalls -- you guessed it -- IC.
The Finnish National Opera Orchestra conducted by the composer makes a strong case for this brilliantly scored holiday offering. Moreover, communities having ballet companies, particularly those with children, might want to consider it as a refreshing alternative to the usual Christmas fare.
Made at the Finnish National Opera House in Helsinki, the recording presents a robust soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The Ondine engineers give us a well-focused image of the considerable forces involved, which include a number of exotic instruments. The disc seems cut at a high level, which probably explains the bright upper end. That coupled with a pleasing musical midrange and profound, transient bass make this release a sound investment.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y131213)
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Marschner, H.: Der Vampyr (opera w/o dialogue); Soloists/Froschauer/ColWDR RC&O [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
German romantic opera buffs who missed out on this pre-Dracularian delight when it first appeared on Capriccio twelve years ago now have a second chance with this recent reissue. The good news, it's a twofer bargain album. The bad, there's no libretto. However, those interested can find it on the Internet in German and English.
A highly accomplished composer with twenty-three operas to his credit, Heinrich August Marschner's (1795-1861) creative efforts unfortunately came between those of such musical giants as Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Consequently he didn't begin to receive the attention he so richly deserves until just a few years ago.
Der Vampyr of 1829 set in eighteenth century Scotland is one of his finest stage works with a libretto that has a fascinating history. It begins in Switzerland during the summer of 1816 when Mary Shelley (1797-1851), her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) and Lord Byron (1788-1824, see 15 February 2008), along with his personal physician Dr. John William Polidori (1795-1821), rented a villa on Lake Geneva. But inclement weather kept them indoors, so for lack of anything better to do they started writing ghost stories.
Mary produced the granddaddy of all Gothic horror tales, Frankenstein (1817), while Byron did some sketches about a vampire that he never personally followed up on. However, Polidori saw these and also being a part-time writer, took inspiration from them for a story entitled The Vampyre (1819). The main character, Lord Ruthven, is even based on the one Byron had envisioned.
Enter Heinrich Ludwig Ritter (1790-1849), who turned it into a play called Der Vampir oder die Totenbraut (The Vampire or the Dead Bride, 1822). This would serve as the mainstay for the opera’s libretto by the composer's brother-in-law, Wilhelm Wohlbrück (1795-1848). With that in hand, Marschner would take the German demons-and-witches operas such as Spohr's (1784-1859) Faust (1813) and Weber's Der Freischütz (1817-21) to an even more horrific level.
Preceding Bram Stoker's (1847-1912) classic Dracula (1897) by almost seventy-five years, there are no bats, garlic plants or mirrors in Marschner’s scary singspiel. And unlike the Stoker, moonlight plays an important role echoing European lycanthropic legends dating as far back as the fifteenth century.
As presented here the opera is in two acts of two scenes each preceded by a thrilling overture [D-1, T-1] with fanglike stabbing chords and fugal figurations. A soaring melody associated with piety and deliverance from evil (PD) appears a couple of times [01:49, 04:54]. Then the overture ends with ominous brass flourishes and a radiant coda recalling PD [06:19].
At this juncture we should note the considerable dialogue is cut from this production, which will please those disliking endless chatter in opera recordings. However, it's a complex story and hopefully we've improved upon the marginal plot synopsis in the album notes by giving you a play-by-play description of the action in what follows. To see an English Microsoft Word version of the libretto annotated for this album, click here.
As the curtain goes up it's a late moonlit night on the Scottish moors. We see a cave entrance next to a covey of witches and ghosts who are delivering a baneful chorus with satanic whistles [D-1, T-2]. The Vampire Master then appears with Lord Ruthven, who’s the Earl of Marsden. In a short accompanied monologue he informs us Ruthven is a vampire who wants to remain among the living awhile longer.
We're also told to do so he must bring this unholy assemblage three victims who are each brides to be -- shades of Dukas' (1865-1935) Ariane et Barbe-bleue (1899-1906) and Bartók's (1881-1945) Bluebeard's Castle (1911-8). The Master leaves, a hushed eerie chorus follows, and the clock strikes one after which all the malevolent spirits disappear into the ground.
Next there's a recitative for Ruthven [D-1, T-3] in which he reveals the first two victims are certain, and the third will be easily found. He follows it with a sensual aria [01:12] where he waxes poetic about beautiful females and the pleasure of sucking warm blood from them. Then Janthe, who's the daughter of Sir Berkeley, the Laird of Berkeley, comes on stage. She's to be married the next day, but has just run away from home for an assignation with Ruthven. She falls into his arms unaware she's about to become his first victim, and they engage in an amorous duet [D-1, T-4].
Horn calls soon announce the arrival of her father [05:09] who's searching for her with his hunters, servants and peasants. This causes the couple to flee into the recesses of the adjoining cave.
An action-packed ensemble number [D-1, T-5] surpassing Weber's wildest moments follows, during which some servants drag Ruthven out. They tell Berkeley his daughter’s body has been found inside drained of blood and with teeth marks on the throat, indicating she’s been the victim of a vampire. Berkeley then stabs Ruthven, who's left to die as everyone else leaves.
At this point Sir Edgar Aubrey, a close friend of Ruthven's, comes on stage and offers to help him. He also swears by everything he holds sacred not to reveal anything about the Earl for the next twenty-four hours.
In this story the moon has protective and restorative powers for vampires. Accordingly during the spooky symphonic interlude that follows [D-1, T-6], at Ruthven's request Edgar positions him on some rocks so his face is bathed in moonlight. Now realizing he's a vampire, Edgar then runs off, and the scene ends as Ruthven sits up completely resuscitated.
The second scene, which takes place the following day, finds Malwina the daughter of Sir Humphrey, the Laird of Davenaut, alone in the hall of her father’s castle. It's her eighteenth birthday, and she's been expectantly waiting for the return of her beloved, who's none other than Edgar. After a joyful tripping aria [D-1, T-7], she sees him coming up to the front gate, and the two join in an ecstatic duet of reunion [D-1, T-8].
They’re then joined by Humphrey, and they all launch into a frenetic trio [D-1, T-9] where her father reveals he's promised her to Ruthven. But Malwina tells him she loves Edgar, and could never marry him! During this number some may note a curious allusion [04:06] to the damnation scene in Mozart's (1756-1791) Don Giovanni (1787). This would seem to hint at her soul eventually ending up in hell should she wed Ruthven and consequently become one of the "living dead."
George Dibdin, Humphrey’s servant, then announces Ruthven's arrival for Malwina's birthday celebration, and what his Lairdship is determined will also be their wedding. This kicks off the Act I finale, which is a superbly written ensemble number anticipating Wagner's early operas.
As the birthday guests deliver some choral merriment [D-1, T-10], Humphrey appears with Ruthven, introducing him to Malwina and Edgar. An engaging quartet of intrigue follows [D-1, T-11], during which Edgar, to some fateful timpani strokes, thinks he recognizes the Earl. He asks if he isn't Lord Ruthven, who immediately claims that’s his brother who's been traveling on the continent for years. But Edgar persists until Ruthven reminds him about his oath of silence.
Horn calls then herald Humphrey's announcement of the pastor's arrival for the wedding [D-1, T-12], and the machinations now shift into even higher gear. Daddy vows to have his daughter married before midnight, Ruthven rejoices at the thought of drinking her blood, and the hapless couple beg his Lairdship to delay the nuptials.
With the marriage plans now up in the air, a thrilling ensemble number concludes the first act. In it the chorus praises the House of Davenaut, and the main protagonists make flowery declarations about their determination to fulfill various intentions.
The final act takes place the evening of the same day, and begins in the square fronting Ruthven's castle at Marsden, where another wedding is imminent. This time it's between Emmy, who's the daughter of the Earl's superintendent John Perth, and George (see above).
An opening chorus sung and danced by the guests is some of the opera's most spirited music [D-2, T-1]. It’s followed by a lovely aria for Emmy [D-2, T-2] in which we learn she's been standing on a nearby cliff looking in vain for her husband-to-be. He of course has been delayed by all the shenanigans at Davenaut Castle.
In the meantime word has spread that Janthe was killed by a vampire the preceding night. This prompts Emmy to sing a quirky romance [D-2, T-3] about a "pale man," (i.e., a vampire) with a haunting choral refrain having the line "May God protect us in this world." Ruthven and George, who has a pistol at his side which he took to protect them on their journey to Marsden, then enter.
Ruthven walks over to Emmy, and a fetching trio follows [D-2, T-4]. He flirts with her laying the ground work for his next nosh, while George observes and comments jealously from the sidelines. He then joins them and after a brief exchange Ruthven leaves saying lovers like to be alone. The two then have a heated exchange during which George points to his pistol threatening to shoot himself if Emmy takes up with Ruthven again.
Edgar fresh from Davenaut now enters, goes up to Ruthven, and in what Marschner calls a "Great Scene," says he’ll break his oath of silence if he won't leave Malwina alone [D-2, T-5]. In a passage with an intensity presaging Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Ruthven delivers a chilling response [01:21]. He sings about the hellish consequences of Edgar's doing so and the devilish forces driving vampires. Whereupon he leaves.
Terror-stricken, Edgar delivers a wrenching aria with nostalgic references to Malwina and ominous thoughts about their future [D-2, T-6]. He too then departs.
Now the plot thickens as Ruthven reappears with Emmy, engages her in a duet of jugular seduction [D-2, T-7], and takes her to a nearby moonlit arbor where unbeknownst to her she'll make an involuntary blood donation. Meanwhile a quartet of peasants entertain us with a jolly drinking song [D-2, T-8] (complete with hiccups) somewhat along the lines of Pedrillo and Osmin's duet in Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio (1782).
One of their wives, who’s particularly meddlesome, then joins them in addition to other peasant tipplers for a quintet with chorus that will close out the scene [D-2, T-9]. But what starts off as a rustic comic diversion, turns sinister as shots ring out, and George runs on stage declaring Emmy's been murdered!
He's been shooting at her assailant, who’s of course Ruthven. However, the Dark Lord has gotten away unscathed in the moonlight, which as you may remember from the opera's opening has protective powers for vampires.
The final scene transpires the next day back at Davenaut castle where news of Emmy's demise has arrived. As the curtain goes up Edgar is on stage and we get a sad chorus lamenting her death [D-2, T-10]. Malwina joins him revealing Daddy is more than ever set on her marrying Ruthven with everything now ready for the ceremony.
A dramatic duet for the two commences in agitated fashion [D-2, T-11] with Edgar bemoaning their fate. Then that PD melody heard in the overture recurs as she exhorts him to trust in God [00:29], and both reaffirm their belief that piety and love will save them from Hell [05:57].
The grand finale [D-2, T-12] opens with a joyful wedding chorus, followed by the sudden appearance of Ruthven apologizing for having delayed the nuptials. Edgar then interrupts the proceedings [D-2, T-13] calling the would-be bridegroom a villain, and Humphrey declares Edgar a madman ordering his servants to bind and take him away. With Malwina now defying her father saying she'll never marry Ruthven, the Earl pressures Humphrey to continue the marriage, whereupon Daddy commands the wedding procession to begin.
The ceremony resumes with a happy but subdued chorus under the illusion that all's well [D-2, T-14]. Then Edgar breaks loose, comes forward, and just as we get a dramatic reminder [02:38] of the clock striking one in the opera’s opening, declares Ruthven a vampire!
His claim is immediately confirmed when to everyone's amazement a lightning bolt strikes Ruthven down dead. Humphrey now seeing the error of his ways gives his daughter to Edgar, and the opera ends [03:50] with an exultant mixed number for all based on PD.
Sopranos Anke Hoffmann (Janthe and Emmy) and Regina Klepper (Malwina), tenors Jonas Kaufmann (Sir Edgar) and Thomas Dewald (George), baritone Franz Hawlata (Lord Ruthven) as well as basses Yoo-Chang Nah (Sir Berkeley) and Markus Marquardt (Sir Humphrey) are all in fine form for this performance. They are ably supported by the West German Radio (WDR) Chorus and Orchestra of Cologne conducted by Helmuth Froschauer.
Made almost fifteen years ago in the WDR's Klaus-von-Bismarck-Saal in Cologne, the recording presents an appropriately proportioned soundstage with the soloists, chorus and orchestra well placed and balanced in a pleasing venue. However, sonically it falls short of the SACD tracks on today's better hybrid opera releases. While the overall orchestral timbre is musical, there is a digital upper edge to the voices and massed higher strings. But with a rarity such as this we're lucky to have what's here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P131212)
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