CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
13 JANUARY 2014
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.
Cassuto: Return to…, Song of…, To Love…, Visiting Friends; Rosado/Cassuto/RScotNa O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Portuguese-born Álvaro Cassuto (b. 1938) is another Latin lawyer turned musician (see 19 December 2011), who's appeared a number of times in these pages as one of the Naxos label's leading conductors (see 20 June 2012 and 28 April 2013). But he's also a highly regarded composer, and now they give us a sampling of his orchestral works. All excepting "Love and Peace" are world premiere recordings.
In his younger days Cassuto flirted with the avant-garde, including twelve-tone technique, and spent his summers in Germany studying with such Darmstadt School composers as Boulez (b. 1925), Messiaen (1908-1992) and Stockhausen (1928-1007). However, his conducting career exposed him to other styles of music, which led to his abandoning the new for more traditional forms of expression. The composer tells us the selections here were written after he'd "outgrown" his experimental period.
As we've noted before regarding the works of conductor-composers B. Tommy Andersson (b. 1964, see 12 September 2012) and Esa-Pekka Salonen (b. 1958, see 13 July 2009), their intimate familiarity with a wide variety of scores seems to inspire them to write music of eclectic colorist persuasion. And Cassuto is no exception!
The composer tells us the first selection titled Return to the Future [T-1] dating from 1985 represents his return to basic tonal principles. It was inspired by the music of another avant-gardist turncoat, George Rochberg (1918-2005), specifically his fourth symphony (1976, currently unavailable on disc), and J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Sixth Brandenburg Concerto (1708-10).
The minimalist opening, which obsesses over a repetitive cantering idea (RC) [00:06] worthy of Philip Glass [b. 1937], is rhythmically suggestive of the concerto’s first movement. Some dramatic passages respectively allegiant to Wagner (1813-1883) [01:08], Smetana (1824-1884) [04:30] and Liszt (1811-1886) [08:32] follow between varied rondo-like flashbacks to RC.
All this culminates in a towering finale recapping previous material, and just as you think the work is over, there's a last reminder of RC, which fades into the distance. Then a brief harp arpeggio like that in the opening of Má vlast (1874, My Country) concludes this dramatic epic in bardic fashion.
The next Song of Loneliness (1972) [T-2] is scored for a chamber orchestra that includes piano, and is done here with expanded string sections. When performed live it calls for echo effects from speakers placed around the concert hall to immerse the audience in the music. Accordingly, those having home theater systems with sound field processing capabilities may want to activate their side and back channels.
Billed as a harmonic exploration of the F minor scale, minimalistic forces are even more evident than in the previous piece. It opens with repeated sighing phrases for the strings, after which the piano introduces an eight-note motif [02:42] that recurs over a dark plodding accompaniment. The mood then changes as winds and brass deliver a series of birdlike calls [04:18]. These are followed by a somewhat sinister passage [05:57], and a new eleven-note sequence (EN) on the piano [06:42].
A hypnotic litany of EN's dominates the rest of the piece, which initially builds to a brief climax. This diminishes as EN appears on the vibraphone [08:35] to a mosquito-like string accompaniment, and is then picked up by the chimes [09:26], which fade into the distance. The work then ends with a feeling of solitude that's implied in its title.
Another exploration along the lines of the preceding selection follows. To Love and Peace from 1973 [T-3] is apparently related to the composer's operatic political satire Em Nome da paz (In the Name of Peace (1971-2, currently unavailable on disc). Its point of departure is the conventional symphony orchestra's nethermost note, which is E on the double bass's lowest open string.
The work starts with a tam-tam-enhanced tone cluster (TC) that would have turned Henry Cowell (1897-1965) green with envy! Here all the strings simultaneously sound every white and black note between that low E and one five octaves above. Then they converge in ghostly "glissando" fashion [00:13] to a sustained five-octave unison E (UE) [00:25] overlaid with an increasingly martial-sounding episode.
Enhanced with substantial “kitchenware” that again includes piano, it quickly climaxes only to suddenly stop. TC and UE then reappear followed by a robust ten-note motif [03:04], all of which become the subjects of a contemplative development [04:00].
This concludes with twittering winds [10:14] succeeded by orchestral spasms [10:56] having percussive twitches. These give way to a prolonged UE passage [11:57] beset by ligneous percussive accents [12:02], over which a new descending idea is repeated on the piano [12:38].
The orchestral accompaniment waxes excitedly, and wanes [16:07] into that beloved melody [16:07] Bach used at several points in his St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244, c. 1727), the best known being the chorale "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden" ("O Head full of Blood and Wounds"). Interestingly enough this began life as a love song by Hans Leo Hassler (1562-1612) titled Mein Gmüt ist mir verwirret" (1601), which might best be translated today as "I'm All Shook Up!" It's played here by the brass over an anxiety-ridden accompaniment, and ends the work with hopes of better things to come.
The final offering, "Visiting Friends" (1986), is a set of four symphonic pastiches where Cassuto imagines meeting some of his favorite past composers suggested by stylistic allusions to their music. The piano has a significant role in three of these respectively slow and fast pieces.
The initial "Introducione " [T-4] opens with eerie glissando-colored passages over which the piano plays broken chords. These usher in a heroic extended theme for the high strings and winds having Richard Strauss (1864-1949) leanings [00:52]. A flash of orchestral lightning [03:32] followed by piano figurations and sighing strings then give way to a sustained note for a flatline ending.
But the patient is immediately resuscitated in "Allegro strepitoso ("Resounding Allegro") [T-5], which is a virtuosic keyboard journey where Cassuto seems to encounter Busoni (1866-1924) [00:10] and Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) [01:22]. It juxtaposes energetic episodes with restrained ones where churchly chimes add a religious air. There are also a couple of cadenzas, the first being a rather demanding one [02:08-03:15], and the last a subdued afterthought that closes the movement introspectively.
The pianist and most of the orchestra go out for a tall one during the Intermezzo [T-6], which is for strings with a closing touch of vibraphone. It's based on a repeated descending melodic phrase frequently found in classical works, one of the most familiar being the duet "He shall feed his flock..." in Handel's (1685-1759) Messiah (1742).
Meetings with Rossini (1792-1868) [00:08] and Brahms (1833-1897) [01:22] seem to take place in the vivacious concluding Allegro scherzando... [T-7]. There are also a couple of rapturous melodic segments [02:57, 04:14] and lots of finger fireworks. The latter include a cadenza [03:41-04:10], after which the music builds to a romantic conclusion. The work then ends unassumingly with the piano running out the backdoor.
Portuguese pianist Antonio Rosado makes an impressive Naxos debut in the last selection, and is presumably also featured in the preceding two. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) under the composer gives him rousing support in what will probably be definitive performances of everything here for some time to come.
The recordings were made at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, that we've categorized before as a lively acoustic (see 27 July 2011). They project a wide soundstage, which the piano seems stretched across with its upper notes skewed left and lower to the right. The overall instrumental timbre is clear with somewhat brittle highs, but clean bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140113)
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Isasi: Cpte Stg Qt Wks V2 (3, 4, Aria, Scherzo, "April…" Prel); Isasi Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The revival of Spanish composer Andrés Isasi's (1891-1940) music continues with this latest installment from Naxos in their ongoing survey of his complete works for string quartet. Those who found the first CD in this series (see 12 September 2012) a rewarding romantic disc of discovery will definitely want it! All of the selections are world premiere recordings.
Dating from 1921 the third quartet has only three movements instead of the customary four, and may well have never been finished. The opening movement, which is simply marked "I" [T-5], has a halting introduction. This gradually becomes more confident giving way to a couple of winsome ideas that are subjected to a skillful development with an attractive fugal episode [05:33]. The restatement of them that follows [09:07] brings a sense of cyclic closure to the movement.
The succeeding scherzo [T-6] is characterized by alternately capricious and obeisant passages, while the melodically sublime last adagio [T-7] is the most heartfelt offering on the disc. It would have been a hard act to follow, which may explain why a fourth movement was never forthcoming.
Turning to the fourth quartet, which was also written in 1921, the first of its four movements is an allegro [T-1] that brings Dvorák (1841-1904) to mind. An opening lilting melody (OL) [00:04] spiced with a cheeky folkish riff [00:52] is followed by a darker idea on the cello [01:29]. These are subjects for a harmonically adventurous developmental dialogue that leads to a rapturous recap. The movement then ends on a high with a coda fabricated from a more sprightly version of OL [08:11].
Next we get a romanze [T-2] that begins with a five-note motif bringing to mind the opening of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Art of the Fugue (BWV 1080, 1745-50). This is the mainstay of a pensive episode with a more agitated imitative core [02:38-04:59]. It couldn't be more different from the pizzicato-laced scherzo [T-3], whose bouncy outer sections surround a keening trio [02:03-04:28].
The final rondo [T-4] features an OL-related folksy jiglike theme (FJ) [00:00] that's elaborated with some spooky sul ponticello (SP) [01:18]. FJ then reappears in a number of guises with allusions to past ideas. Some closing modulatory machinations, another dash of SP [05:32], and three definitive chords end the quartet emphatically.
The concert concludes with three short occasional pieces probably composed in the early 1930s. The album notes tell us the first, Aria in D major [T-8], might well be the slow movement from the fragmentary last quartet (No. 7, date not given). It starts in a relaxed manner like the familiar "Air on a G String" from Bach's third orchestral suite (c. 1729-1731). A harmonically searching passage follows giving way to a reprise of the opening that ends things much as they began
The composer may well have intended the charming Scherzetto in F minor [T-9] to be part of another quartet. While the final Prelude in A major subtitled "Jinete de Abril ("April Horseman") is a haunting, chromatically tinged meditation that bears repeated listening. It concludes the disc on a nostalgic note.
Once again the members of the Isasi Quartet make a strong case for this music, giving us technically polished, moving accounts of these scores. They leave you waiting expectantly for Naxos' final installment devoted to a rewarding until now undiscovered niche of late romantic chamber music.
Made by the identical personnel and at the same location (Château d’Arcangues in the Aquitaine region of France) as the first release, the recordings again project an up-front sonic image in a dry acoustic. While the strings are bright and clear, this fetching music would have sounded even better had it been given a little more Atemsraum.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140112)
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Klughardt: Sym 5, Conc Ov "In Spring", Fest Ov; Hermus/Anh-Dessau O [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German-born-and-trained August Klughardt (1847-1902) began composing as a youngster, but initially followed a conducting career that would take him to the court theater in Weimar (1869-1873) where he met Liszt (1811-1886) and Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Their music inspired him to devote a considerable amount of time to composition during his later life, which was unfortunately cut short by his sudden death at fifty-four.
While their influence is present in his adult works, he would never write a tone poem, preferring older established forms for his chamber and orchestral creations. Consequently the three selection on this new CPO release harken back to the overtures and symphonies of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and even Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Incidentally these are the only currently available recordings of them on disc.
August wrote six symphonies, but the first subtitled "Waldleben" ("Life in the Forest", 1871) was withdrawn. This left the five numbered ones that have come down to us, the fifth and last being the one that begins our program. Dating from 1897 it's atypically in five movements, and started life in 1892 as a string sextet, which unfortunately has since been lost.
The initial allegro [T-1] is in modified sonata, and begins with an agitated angular theme (AA) [00:02] whose opening notes recall the first of Brahms' Hungarian Dances (1868-80). It's followed by a more relaxed idea (MR) on the clarinet [00:47], and a fateful motif (FM) in the woodwinds [01:38]. The dramatic development that's next initially concerns itself with AA, which is at one point decorated with a solo violin descant [03:56] that could be a hangover from the sextet.
FN then emerges in the brass [04:41] and is worked into a timpani-reinforced climax. This suddenly subsides with reminders of MR [05:38] and AA [05:47], after which there's a restless MR-based discourse. It's succeeded by a recap of MR [07:12], AA [07:49] and FM [08:28], which are seasoning for the brief coda that ends the movement emphatically.
Hearing the lovely adagio [T-2] it's easy to understand why a critic who knew Klughardt described it as the most heartfelt thing he'd ever written. Based on a sinuous extended melody [00:00], its chromatically searching with a string-dominated opening and closing. These recall the last act of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1857-9), while the more reverential, wind-oriented central development [04:03-05:39] brings Parsifal (1877-82) to mind.
An engaging rusticity permeates the next allegro [T-3], which is a scherzo in all but name. There's something equestrian about the opening theme [00:00], which along with frequent horn calls invokes a forest scene with hunters on horseback in pursuit of some elusive quarry. This is offset by a delightful tripping central trio [01:45-03:32] having violin work [02:07] like that mentioned above.
There's an informality about the following andante [T-4] more typical of something in a suite than a symphony. In essence it's a theme and variations beginning with an initial bumpkinish subject (BS) [00:00] that brings Goldmark's (1830-1915) Rustic Wedding Symphony (No.1, 1877) to mind.
The first variation is a tipsy woodwind-ornamented version of BS [00:45], and the second a swaggering variant for strings [01:30]. The romantic transformation that follows begins like Tchaikovsky (1830-1915) [02:37], and turns briefly grand in the manner of Brahms [03:02]. The Slavic-oriented opening measures then reappear [03:50], and the music concludes uneventfully with hints of BS [04:07].
The final movement, which is the longest and most complex of the five, is another Klughardt modified sonata form allegro [T-5]. The opening statement starts with scurrying strings and an ominous pensive theme (OP) [00:11] that's briefly elaborated. It's then repeated even more forcefully [01:11], and after some musical bridgework we get an OP-derived, jolly skipping tune (JS) [02:38].
A development having some bizarre flashes of high woodwind lightning [03:18-03:25] follows. This becomes more impassioned with rondoesque recurrences of OP and JS plus more lightning. It builds to a fugal recapitulation centering around OP [10:00] that despite a reminder of FM [11:48] ends the symphony joyfully. By the way, Klughardt's third symphony (c.1880) and violin concerto (1895) are available on a previous CPO.
The disc is filled out with a couple of lively overtures, the first being the Konzertouvertüre "Im Frühling" (Concert Overture "In Spring", 1869-73) [T-6]. Having affinities with Mendelssohn and Schumann, the cool subdued opening suggests the last days of winter, while slowly rising strings and radiant winds seem to depict a vernal warming trend. The music then becomes more animated, finally bursting into a fervid jubilant theme (FJ) [04:16] presumably announcing the arrival of spring.
The masterful development that's next features an arresting give-and-take between subdued pastoral passages and frenzied ones possibly reflecting the rebirth of life. Then we get a romanticized variant of FJ (RV) [06:34], after which the music builds to a full-fledged reminder of it [08:08]. Some additional development that includes a brief fugato episode [10:10] follows, leading to agitated passages with recollections of RV [10:56]. An FJ-based coda [12:12] then ends the work ecstatically.
From 1882 until his death in 1902 Klughardt was music director of the Ducal Court Theater in the Anhalt-Dessau principality of Germany, and wrote Festouvertüre (Festival Overture, c. 1898) [T-7] to commemorate its one hundredth anniversary. In sonata form, according to the album notes it's a reworking of an earlier unnamed piece dating from 1877. They also tell us there are a couple of themes associated with a march and song popular in that area back then.
While the influence of Mendelssohn and Schumann is again apparent, there are also occasional glimmers of Wagner (see 26 October 2011). It begins with trumpet calls reminiscent of Franz von Suppe's (1819-1895) Light Cavalry Overture (1866, see 25 February 2013) that alternate with slow stately passages for the rest of the orchestra. The music then gains momentum hinting at an ebullient festive theme (EF) which soon appears [02:40].
The brief elaboration that follows is succeeded by a majestic regal tune (MR) [04:05] worthy of Elgar (1857-1934). A reference to EF's opening notes [05:06] kicks off an exciting imitative development followed by the return of EF [06:10] and MR [06:44]. Brass fanfares [07:50] then herald a final coda laced with timpani-reinforced recollections of both themes to conclude the overture and this CD with great pomp.
The Anhalt-Dessau Philharmonic can trace its ancestry back to 1776, and is the modern day counterpart of the orchestra Klughardt was associated with for the last twenty-years of his life. Appropriately enough it's featured here under the most recent of his many successors, Dutch conductor Antony Hermus, who obviously has a great fondness for this undeservedly neglected music. He elicits technically superb, sensitive readings of all three selections from one of Germany's most venerable orchestras.
Done in Zerbst, Germany, the recording location was the Katharina-Saal in the Town Hall. Small by concert hall standards with only a slight amount of reverberation, this venue gives rise to a lean, clearly focused soundstage, which those liking wetter sonics may find somewhat dry. The instrumental timbre is for the most part musical with massed upper violin passages occasionally bordering on the steely side, but clean low bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140111)
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Pickard: Chbr Wks V2 (Stg Qts 1 & 5); Brodowski Qt [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
It's been almost six years since English composer John Pickard (b. 1963) has appeared in these pages, and it's a pleasure to welcome him back! Previously we told you about some of his orchestral pieces (see 30 March 2008), and now the adventurous Toccata label gives us the first and last of the five string quartets he's written to date. Both are world premiere recordings.
Pickard, who studied with William Mathias (1934-1992) and Louis Andriessen (b. 1939, see the newsletter of 7 May, 2006), writes tonal contemporary music with solid links to the past. What's more there's a sincerity, drive and structural rigor that make it intellectually challenging while at the same time immediately appealing. Like his symphonic works mentioned above, these quartets bear repeated listening.
Regarding his first quartet (1991), in his informative album notes Pickard quotes the old saw "For Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread" from Alexander Pope's (1688-1744) poem An Essay on Criticism (1709). And that would seem appropriate to a single movement work lasting almost forty minutes undertaken by a composer who was only twenty-seven.
But he goes on to say it was unproblematic, a claim which seems fully supported by the youthful flowing opus presented here. Falling into ten segments that are conveniently banded for easy access, the slow introductory one has the simple metronome marking of 48 quarter note beats per minute [T-1].
It’s based on three tetrachords (TT) [00:03] as defined in the modern sense, whose notes constitute a chromatic scale. There’s an ever increasing harmonic density reminiscent of Shostakovich's (1906-1975) later quartets.
The music then coalesces into the next segment with the self-explanatory title "Unison melody I" [T-2]. Here all four instruments launch into an extended theme (UI) [00:00] providing the material for the next three sections. The first of these, a dreamy "Prelude" [T-3], brings Szymanowski (1882-1937, see 18 February 2009) to mind, while the spirit of Beethoven (1770-1827) seems to dominate the solid "Fugue I" [T-4], and Bartok (1881-1945) a virtuosically frenzied "Fugue II" [T-5].
The latter slows and bridges via some pensive passagework into "Unison melody II" (UII) [T-6] that’s a reworking of UI. Then after a brief pause we get "Meditation" [T-7], which is an elaboration of UII over a shuddering pianissimo accompaniment.
This concludes with hushed hints of its opening measures, and gives way to a thrilling "Prestissimo" [T-8]. At almost nine minutes it's the work's longest section, which to paraphrase the composer comes in three waves of strengthening force and momentum.
The succeeding "Climax" [T-9], which begins with an agonized phrase [00:00] followed by an fff reminder of TT [00:02], is a mixture of the last wave and elements of the work's slow introduction. It serves as a braking action splintering the music into motific fragments that recall the piece's opening measures.
They spiral upwards disappearing like smoke from a dying campfire. Then after a brief caesura we get the final "Coda" based on TT [T-10], which brings the quartet full circle. It leaves the listener with a feeling of expectancy, making a good teaser for the next one, which the composer says revisits aspects of the first.
The fifth quartet came some twenty years later (2011-2), and was premiered by the artists on this release. In five movements that alternate between fast and slow, the initial "Inquieto" ("Restless") [T-11] is a compelling discourse that begins agreeably with all four players intoning a pragmatic extended melody (PE) [00:01] in unison. However, a difference of opinion breaks out as two of them decide to render PE a whole-tone away. This leads to an engaging developmental clash where an attempt to regain unanimity fails, ending the movement indecisively.
It would seem regret over inability to reach an accord fills the melancholy "Desolato" ("Disconsolate") [T-12], but the mood lightens in "Prestissimo..." [T-13]. A scherzoesque movement smacking of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), its outer sections surround an uproarious pizzicato episode where the players nearly fall all over each other [01:40-02:24]. It ends with another wisp of smoke from that campfire mentioned above.
In the following "Drammatico" [T-14] the four instruments appear intent on reaching a consensus over PE. What starts off as an agonized argument with a frantic variety of solos, duos and trios [00:01] is finally resolved by the viola calmly alluding to it [03:24]. The other instruments then join in, concluding the movement with the same feeling of conformity that characterized the work's beginning.
But the controversy flares up again in the final virtuosic "Molto energico" [T-15], which starts with the discordant clash encountered in the first movement. However, references to past ideas in the thrilling developmental discourse that follows [01:28] indicate lessons have been learned as evidenced by the PE-derived reconciliatory recap [04:47] and coda [05:43] that follow. The quartet then ends like it began with all four instruments playing a unison note.
The members of the London-based Brodowski Quartet give stirring accounts of both works. Their technical mastery tempered with careful attention to the rhythmic and melodic intricacies of these scores make a strong case for them.
Made at St. Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, the recordings project a generously proportioned soundstage that remains amazingly well focused despite the considerably reverberant surroundings. The strings have an agreeable brightness that complements Pickard's wiry creations. Contemporary chamber music enthusiasts as well as audiophiles liking wetter sonics should give this disc a spin.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140110)
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Rivier: Conc Brève (pno, stg orch; w Casadesus, Castérède, Wiener); Altwegg/Colliard/Toul ChO [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Composed between 1923 and 1954 the four French concertante works for piano and string orchestra on this CD cover a stylistic spectrum ranging from Franck (1822-1890), Saint-Saëns (1835-1921), Fauré (1845-1924), and d'Indy (1851-1931), through Ravel (1875-1937), Honegger (1892-1955), Milhaud (1892-1974, see 17 February 2007), and Poulenc (1899-1963). We have Guild to thank for bringing these Gallic goodies to light, giving us the only recordings of them currently on disc.
The program begins with Concerto Brève by Jean Rivier (1896-1987), who taught along with Milhaud at the Paris Conservatory. One of Jean's eleven concertos for various instruments, it was his second for piano. Completed in 1953, it's of neo-classical deportment with turns of phrase recalling Poulenc.
The first of its three movements marked "Leggiero burlesco” (“Light and Humorous”) [T-1] soon finds the soloist stating an angular folksy tune (AF) [00:09] that will dominate the piece. A catchy elaborative development follows, and then the movement ends with an unresolved upward spiraling passage for soloist and tutti.
The aloof "Lento nostalgico" (“Slow and Nostalgic”) [T-2] is built on a subdued version of AF that saunters about. This ends uneventfully, and the final “Allegro violento” (“Fast and Furious”) [T-3] suddenly bursts on the scene. Here animated AF-derived bravura passages surround a harmonically searching inner episode [01:05-02:12]. The concerto then ends in a final frenetic machine-gun coda.
Most remember Robert Casadesus (1899-1972) as one of France's greatest concert pianists, but he also wrote a considerable amount of music, which includes seven symphonies as well as ten concertante works. The latter encompass four for a single piano with the Capriccio of 1952 being the next work. Set in four movements, the opening allegro [T-4] resembles a rondo with a flippant recurring idea (FR) [00:16] for a subject.
The following scherzo [T-5] is a delicate virtuosic romp for the soloist over a pizzicato-accented accompaniment, and may bring Prokofiev (1891-1953) to mind. But the pace relaxes in the lovely adagio [T-6], which would seem to draw its inspiration from the "Night Music" in the slow movements of Bartók's (1801-1945) piano concertos (1926-45). Here a velveted nocturnal string sky is dotted with twinkling piano stars. This elegant concerto then ends in another allegro [T-7] of rondo disposition based on a vivacious theme closely related to FR.
The next composer represented is Jean Wiener (1896-1982), who studied at the Paris Conservatory where one of his fellow students was Darius Milhaud. Jean was also a pianist of some note in French popular music establishments. These included that famous Parisian nightclub Le boeuf sur le toit (The Ox on the Roof, or Nothing-Doing Bar), which was named after Darius’ delightful 1920 ballet based on Brazilian popular music.
Although best remembered for his film scores, Wiener also wrote concert works that include two piano concertos, the first of which dating from 1923 comes next. Just like Milhaud's creations from back then, American jazz elements figure heavily in this piece, and are reflected in its subtitle "Franco American."
In three movements, the initial one marked "Trés sonore et trés marque" ("Very Sonorous and Pronounced") [T-8] begins with a simple baroque-like melody (SB) [00:00] that could be out of a J.S. Bach (1685-1750) keyboard concerto. This is elaborated with jazzy riffs, and succeeded by a harmonically searching cadenza. The movement then ends with a dramatic recap of SB by the soloist followed by an explosive closing coda for all.
The following “Trés lent” (“Very Slow”) [T-9] has great listener appeal with bluesy outer sections surrounding a lovely proud tune [03:20] recalling 1920's dance hall music. It's a perfect contrast to the captivating final “Alla brève” ("Quickly") [T-10] that's built around a tuneful folkish ditty related to SB, and contains a rhapsodic cadenza. The latter impertinently transitions into a return of SB [03:55], ending this beautifully crafted concerto full circle.
A frequent prize winner and distinguished academician, Jacques Castérède (b. 1926) has written a substantial number of works that include two piano concertos, and it's the earlier one of 1954 which fills out this release. The first of its four movements, "Pastorale" [T-11], is an amalgam of Franck and Ravel with a peaceful opening theme for the tutti that's picked up by the piano. Some bravura solo passagework set against shimmering strings ensues, after which the opening mood returns concluding the movement as it began.
Not for amateurs, the succeeding “Scherzo” [T-12] with its demanding finger work and buzzing strings is Jacques' answer to Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) timeless Flight of the Bumblebee from his opera The Tale of the Tsar Sultan (1900). While "Nocturne" [T-12], the longest movement, is a dark meditation for the soloist supported by sinuous chromatically spiced strings.
There's a whimsical irreverence about the closing “Rondo” recalling Jean Françaix (1912-1997, see 21 October 2013). Based on a wiry motif a bit reminiscent of the second theme in Hindemith's (1895-1963) Symphonic Metamorphosis... (1943), it brings this engaging Guild release to a whirlwind finish.
Swiss pianist Timon Altwegg delivers technically accomplished, exciting performances of all four concertos. He receives superb support from the Toulouse Chamber orchestra under Gilles Colliard. There's a Gallic swagger about their performances that makes these undiscovered keyboard gems all the more ear-catching. The only reservation would be a hint of intonational instability in the first movement of the Casadesus [T-4].
The recordings were made at Studio Elixir in Toulouse, France. They present an appropriately proportioned soundstage in a space that seems much more reverberant than pictures of this facility would imply. This and what sound like premature fadeouts on louder tracks make one wonder whether some "reverb" was later added. If that was the case, the sonic image would have fared better without it.
As for the overall instrumental timbre, it’s bright at the top end with some digital blurring in forte piano passages, and occasional steely sounding strings. However, the balance between soloist and tutti remains acceptable throughout.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140109)
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Sullivan, A: Beauty Stone (cpte opera); Soloists/Macdonald/BBCWalNa C&O [Chandos]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
London-born Sir Arthur Sullivan's (1842-1900) next to last opera The Beauty Stone (1897-8) receives its first complete professional recording here, and high time too as it contains some his richest, most sophisticated music! So why did it disappear? The answer seems to lie with the libretto by English actor-dramatist Arthur Wing Pinero (1855-1934) and drama critic William Comyns Carr (1849-1916).
More complex with considerable psychological depth and extensive dialogue, it was a far cry from those by Sir William Gilbert (1836-1911) for the comic G&S Savoy Theater operas London audiences had been used to. In fact the world premiere took some four hours only two of which were musical numbers. All of these are presented here [TT-129:22], including the substantial cuts that were made, which Sullivan fortunately bound into the back of his autograph score.
The album notes provide extensive background information, a detailed plot synopsis, and relevant texts. Accordingly we've limited our comments concerning this release to general observations as those getting it will be able to find just about anything they ever wanted to know about the opera.
A romantic musical drama to use the composer's own words, it takes place at the beginning of the fifteenth century in the Flemish village of Mirlemont. The story centers around an elderly couple, Simon and Joan Limal, their crippled daughter Laine, Lord Philip of Mirlemont, and his Eastern lover Saida. The Devil also plays a major role as the purveyor of the Stone, which bestows "the gift of perfect beauty" upon anyone owning it
In three acts, leitmotifs play an important role, and two of them appear in the orchestral introduction [D-1, T-1]. The first represents Philip's martial nature (PM) [00:13], and the second is the melody for Laine's prayer to the Virgin (LP) [02:10].
The Act I, Scene 1 curtain goes up on the Limal's wretched abode with Simon, who’s a weaver by trade, at his loom and Joan making a fire. Highlights include a forlorn opening duet for them [D-1, T-2] referring to the "click, clack" of the loom, and a pesky choral number [D-1, T-3] in which a crowd of town folk harass Laine as she returns home from doing errands. Then there's her lovely prayer based on LP [D-1, T-5], and an engaging quartet [D-1, T-6] where she's joined by her parents and the Devil disguised as a friar.
During their exchange the Prince of Darkness hands Simon the Beauty Stone, which he gives to Laine, who leaves the room to put it on. Next the Devil delivers a recitative followed by a song about the Stone's history [D-1, T-7] made all the more colorful by a tolling bell and startling crash of thunder [04:25]. The scene then concludes with a reverent orchestral episode [D-1, T-8], during which Laine now wearing the stone reappears transformed into a beautiful maiden.
Scene 2 takes place in the town's marketplace, and opens with a joyous chorus for the villagers, who sing about a big upcoming beauty contest [D-1, T-10 & 11]. This finds Sullivan on a melodic high worthy of Tchaikovsky (1840-1893, see 12 July 2013).
The Devil disguised as an Italian nobleman enters along with Laine's tomboy friend Jacqueline, and the two have a jaunty duet [D-1, T-12] reminiscent of the old G&S operettas, Princess Ida (1884) in particular. An invigorating chorus [D-1, T-13] introduces the contest [D-1, T-14], which has winsome arias by three of the would-be beauty queens [D-1, T-15, 16 & 17] interspersed with some spirited choral work.
The scene closes with a marvelous ensemble number [D-1, T-18 through 21] where the now pulchritudinous Laine is brought forth to the amazement of all. She sings a lovely song [D-1, T-22] set to a melody John Lanchberry (1923-2003) would later use in his ballet film The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971). Then Philip, totally taken with her and much to Saida's chagrin, crowns her the beauty queen as the first act curtain comes down.
The opening scene of the second act is a hall in Philip's Castle. He's playing cards, and surrounded by his knights accompanied by various ladies with the Devil and Saida also in attendance. Highlights include rousing opening choruses [D-2, T-1, 2 & 3] followed by a gorgeous modally tinged song and dance for Saida along with some knights and Eastern Maidens [D-2, T-4]. There's also a tender duet for Philip and Laine in which he declares his love for her [D-2, T-6].
All these amative preoccupations cause Philip to lose his warlike disposition, and he refuses a request from the Duke of Burgundy to help quell a rebellion there. This greatly upsets Philip's trusted knight Guntran of Beaugrant, who in a dramatic confrontation [D-2, T-11] shames him into changing his mind. To wit, Philip now draws his sword and in a rousing solo passage hinting at PM (see above) encourages his knights to ride with him into battle [03:06], closing the scene heroically.
The brief night-time scene at the Limal hovel that follows has a touching trio for Laine and her parents [D-2, T-13] in which she rejects beauty as breeding sorrow, throws the stone on the floor, and rushes away. Then in a dulcet duet with Joan [D-2, T-14] Dad decides to wear it, and becomes a handsome youth. The Limals are next joined by Saida and the Devil for a closing quintet of intrigue [D-2, T-15], after which she draws Simon away hoping to learn the secret of his youthening. The scene ends with another crash of thunder.
The next one takes place at dawn on an uneven space of ground between Philip's castle and Mirlemont's north gate. It starts with an infectious duet with dance for Jacqueline and the Devil [D-2, T-16] again recalling those earlier G&S Savoy productions. The second act finale follows [D-2, T-17] where Philip in a solo set to PM (see above) reaffirms his readiness for battle [02:04]. Laine next approaches him, but not recognizing who she is, he rejects her. The townspeople then bear him away as they sing his praises, concluding the act triumphantly.
The third and final act curtain goes up revealing a bright sunny day on the elevated terrace of Philip's castle. High points here include a jubilant recitative and aria for Saida [D-2, T-21] who, having now secured the stone and become a ravishing beauty, hopes to land Philip. But to no avail as we learn he's been blinded in battle and now only wants Laine.
A dramatic exchange between Saida and the Devil ensues [D-2, T-22] where she flings the stone at him and storms off. This is cause for his singing a delightfully sardonic bell-enhanced solo about how it always comes back to him. The scene then concludes somewhat surprisingly as he jumps up on the terrace balustrade and leaps into space.
Some music [D-2, T-23] ushers in a change of scene to the marketplace where the villagers engage in a vivacious chorus and dance [D-2, T-24]. They exit to an orchestral march-like episode [D-2, T-25], and we get a brilliant, grand finale ensemble number [D-2, T-26]. Here Philip is reunited with Laine, and sings a paean to a PM-derived melody declaring her the fairest of all [03:02]. The chorus then picks up on this, ending the opera jubilantly as the Devil steals away to find another sucker for his magic rock.
The vocalists are uniformly superb, and in the best D'Oyly Carte Opera Company tradition, but you may miss those catchy patter songs that were always a G&S specialty. The cast includes sopranos Elin Manahan Thomas (Laine) and Rebecca Evans (Saida) in addition to mezzo-sopranos Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Joan) and Madeleine Shaw (Jacqueline). Then there's tenor Toby Spence (Philip), baritones Stephen Gadd (Simon) and Alan Opie (The Devil), as well as bass David Stout (Guntran).
They receive superb support from Rory Macdonald conducting the BBC National Chorus and Orchestra of Wales, all of whom prove themselves outstanding Savoyards. Hey, Chandos, how about doing Edward German's (1862-1936, see 31 May 2012) completion of Sir Arthur's unfinished last opera, The Emerald Isle (1901)?
Made in association with BBC Radio at BBC Hoddinott Hall, Cardiff, Wales, the recording projects a wide deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. The balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra is good, but it's too bad this isn't a hybrid album as the vocal and massed violin highs on the SACD tracks would have probably been more listener friendly. Accordingly, while the bass is excellent, those having tone and/or-equalization controls may want to make some treble adjustments.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140108)
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