CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
12 MARCH 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.
Boyer, P.: Sym 1, Three Olympians (stg orch), Celebration Ov, Silver Fanfare, etc; Boyer/Lon PO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The popularity of American composer Peter Boyer's (b. 1970) music has led to many commissions from conductors and orchestras in the U.S. Five such works written between 1997 and 2013 are represented here, three of which are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.
Those liking Roberto Sierra (b. 1953), whom we told you about last time (see 6 February 2014), will love this disc. Boyer's well crafted, brilliantly scored works -- he's one of Hollywood's most accomplished orchestrators -- reveal his propensity to write music that's more emotionally rather than intellectually oriented. The opening Silver Fanfare [T-1] is a case in point.
This is the first part of a six-movement work entitled On Music's Wings (currently unavailable on disc) composed in 2004 for the "silver" (twenty-fifth) anniversary of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. Boyar tells us it was also designed as a virtuoso curtain-raiser that can be performed separately. Highly cinematic with rousing brass flourishes and over-the-top percussion that includes piano, it immediately commands the listener's attention.
And if that weren't enough we get another ostentation with the next Festivities (2011, OCAR) [T-2] written for the "golden" (fiftieth) anniversary of the annual Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here powerful fanfare outer sections suggest and surround a lovely melodic interlude highlighted by a nostalgic pastoral tune [03:66-04:55].
Some of the best known residents of Mount Olympus are the subjects for the following Three Olympians for string orchestra (2000, OCAR). This deific trilogy begins with "Apollo" [T-3] the god of reason, intelligence and the sun among other things. Boyer characterizes him with glowing music of classical simplicity having pizzicato accents and col legno snaps.
Love and beauty are the attributes of "Aphrodite" [T-4], which is a gorgeous offering with an extended romantic cantilena. It couldn't be more different from the concluding combative "Ares" [T5] that has a rhythmically aggressive opening along the lines of Holst's (1874-1934) "Mars, the Bringer of War" from The Planets (1914-6). Virtuosic passages with pizzicato and glissando effects then follow ending the piece on a warlike footing, and bringing to mind Bernard Herrmann's more provocative film scores (1911-1975, see 12 April 2010 and 31 March 2011).
Celebration Overture was originally written in 1997 and revised in 2001 giving us the version heard here [T-6]. It augurs Festivities above, and opens with a vivacious twitchy brass motif (VT) [00:00]. This gives way to hints of a lovely expansive main theme (LE) [00:53] to come, and introduces a catchy syncopated passage [02:37]. More allusions to LE follow and then it's stated in full [04:28], after which we get a return to VT [05:50], closing the overture like it began. The world of Max Steiner (1888-1971, see 18 April 2011) and Franz Waxman (1906-1967, see 18 April 2011) is not far away.
The disc ends with Boyer's first symphony of 2012-13 (OCAR). This follows a three-movement plan like Aaron Copland's (1900-1990) Organ Symphony (No.1, 1924; see 31 March 2011) and the Jeremiah Symphony (No. 1, 1943) of Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990), to whose memory it's dedicated.
The initial "Prelude" [T-7] opens with a sinuous modal (mixolydian) theme (SM) [00:00] that will dominate the movement. In three arches, the first is a dignified fugato [00:00] based on SM that's followed by a second developmental one with military overtones [02:16] where the tempo doubles. This concludes in a dissonant outburst [04:26] survived by a sustained note on the cellos introducing the final arch. Peaceful and with nostalgic memories of SM, it brings the movement to a serene ending.
One can imagine a conga line snaking through the orchestra to the rhythmically spastic opening and closing of the next "Scherzo/Dance" [T-8]. They bracket a tuneful episode [02:33-04:03] that adds a serenade-like touch to this infectious movement.
The symphony concludes with an adagio [T-9] that's almost twice as long as either of the preceding movements. Like the first, it's based on an extended meandering melody, which appears in a colorful variety of orchestral guises that ebb and flow in cinematic fashion. The music could easily accompany scenes of a wagon train crossing Monument Valley in one of those John Ford (1894-1973) Westerns.
These performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the composer's direction sparkle. While the music may lack profundity, Boyer instills his Technicolor scores with a captivating energy and drive that well make up for it.
Done in London at Abbey Road Studio One, which is one of the world's largest recording venues, the sumptuous soundstage presented is in highly reverberant surroundings that will appeal to those liking lush romantic sonics. Some audio purists might prefer a more sharply focused image, but this one perfectly complements such filmic fare. The orchestral timbre is pleasing with shimmering highs, a lifelike midrange, and low transient bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140312)
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Graener: Orch Wks V2 (Sym in D "Schmied…", Aus dem…, Prinz Eugen… Vars) Albert/HanNDR RP [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
CPO continues their ongoing survey of German composer Paul Graener's (1872-1944, see 14 May 2012) orchestral music with this second volume devoted to another three works. These are the only currently available recordings of them on disc.
Like César Franck (1822-1890) Graener wrote a single three-movement, D minor symphony. Composed in 1911-2 while he was director of the Mozarteum University of Salzburg (1911-4), it came not long after the death of his eight-year-old son. This would seem to explain the subtitle "Schmied Schmerz" ("Sorrow the Blacksmith") after the lines "Sorrow is a blacksmith, his hammer strikes hard" by German writer-poet Otto Julius Bierbaum (1865-1910).
The first movement [T-1] has a despondent larghetto opening [00:01] with weeping strings and rueful episodic passages for clarinet, contrabassoon, trumpet, horn, violin and oboe. A highly agitated allegro appassionato follows beginning with an angst-ridden theme (AR) [03:46] having hammer-blow-like rhythmic riffs (HRs) [04:04].
AR is elaborated and the pace slows as it's transformed into a lovely nostalgic melody (LN) [05:33] that undergoes an attractive rhapsodic development. This is suddenly quashed by aggressive brass [07:14], and AR returns [07:26] fueling a militant development punctuated with more HRs [07:32].
However, hostilities abate and LN returns [11:02] as the subject for another rhapsodic episode that becomes increasingly agonized. It builds into a coda of grief [13:54] with recurrent sobbing phrases to conclude the movement with a feeling of tragic resignation.
A comely LN-related melody (CL) for English horn and then clarinet introduces the central adagio [T-2]. It's worked into a harrowing climax that dies away to a fateful timpanic tattoo [04:18], ending this section with sad memories hinting at the opening.
The final allegro [T-3] starts with a commanding A-B-A developmental interplay between an AR-derived, HR-accented thematic group (AH) [00:00-01:28, 03:38-04:22] and a contrasting pastoral one [01:29-03:37]. Then we get a serene consoling idea (SC) [04:28] with hints of CL. This swells into a final coda [06:32] built on AH's opening and SC to end the symphony beatifically.
The next selection, Aus dem Reiche des Pan (From the Realm of Pan), is a four-movement, programmatic orchestral suite Graener fashioned in 1920 from his Vier Gedichte für Klavier (Four Poems for Piano, c. 1906; not currently available on disc). Written while he was a conductor in London and undoubtedly familiar with Debussy (1862-1918), who was at the height of his career, these tone pictures border on the impressionistic.
Entitled "Pan träumt im Mondlicht" ("Pan Dreaming in the Moonlight") [T-4], the first is a melancholic daguerreoype where it's easy to imagine the half-human, half-goat Pan in the arms of Morpheus under a full moon. "Pan singt von der Sehnsucht" ("Pan Sings of Love and Longing") [T-5] is very similar, but with a yearning chromatic melody reminiscent of Max Reger (1873-1916).
The mood becomes quizzical in "Pan tanzt") ("Pan Dances") [T-6], which is an engaging satyric cavort for this cloven-hoofed creature. However, things once again turn sullen in the final "Pan singt das Welt-Wiegenlied" ("Pan Sings the World a Lullaby") [T-7] that's the longest of the four pictures. Beginning somewhat like Sibelius (1865-1957, see 7 May 2006), it's a berceuse of bereavement with just a hint of hope in the closing chord.
By way of background, the selection filling out this release, Prinz Eugen, der edle Ritter (Prince Eugene, the Noble Knight, 1939) [T-8] dates from Graener's controversial Berlin years. Moreover, he had joined the Nazi party in 1933 probably to advance his career, and by 1935 become vice-president of the Third Reich State Music Institute, replacing Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954, see 28 April 2007).
However, his close friendship with Jews and failure to prove he was of Aryan ancestry led to his resignation in 1937. Considering this and that nothing has come to light indicating he was a hard-line Nazi sympathizer, it seems reasonable in these modern times to judge the man by his music rather than any political indiscretions.
Prinz Eugen... is a set of variations based on a German folksong of that name, and was composed for the 1939 Reich Music Festival held in Düsseldorf. Accordingly Graener came up with a nationalistic piece that lived up to the Nazi cultural authorities' demands for composers to write conservative, purely German-based music. But at the same time, it's a magnificently constructed, substantial contribution to romantic orchestral repertoire.
Like Vincent d'Indy's (1851-1931) Istar (1896, see 25 April 2010), it's one of those bassackwards theme and variations where the "big tune" doesn't appear in all its glory until the very end. In fact the militant opening with snare drum riffs [00:00] and a trumpet call [00:16] simply sets the stage for a preview of the main subject (MS) [01:30-01:48]. This bridges into the first variation [02:22], which is a romanticized elaboration of MS. Then a lumbering ursine passage [03:26] gives way to mischievous [03:37] and rapturous variants [04:15].
A change of mood follows with a scherzo-like antsy section [06:35], and harmonically searching sequence [07:12] smacking of Pfitzner (1869-1949). Then a threatening warlike passage [09:20] with more drumming [09:36] sets the stage for a robust berserk mazurka [10:26]. This disintegrates into a strange East Indian sounding passage [11:41] followed by a fugato hinting at MS [11:55] and a phrase somewhat akin to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" [12:29].
These are cleverly combined into a big bouncy MS-based march [13:16], after which there's a subdued recap of MS [13:59]. This is amplified into a massive full statement of it with attendant brass fanfares and drum tattoos worthy of a Nuremberg Rally. It must have gotten a standing ovation from Goebbels and all the other Nazi dignitaries at the festival.
As on CPO's previous Graener release (see 14 May 2012) conductor Werner Andreas Albert and the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic once more make a strong case for his music. While the suite is for the most part restrained, the other two pieces can be unusually subdued one minute and extremely dynamic the next. Consequently they're a real juggling act for any conductor, and Albert comes off swimmingly.
Another coproduction of CPO and North German Radio (NDR), the recordings were made by the identical personnel and at the same location (NDR's large studio in Hannover) as before. Again they project a well-focused soundstage in a warm reverberant acoustic. The balance between the many instrumental groups that appear in Graener's intricate scoring is ideal, and the instrumental timbre completely musical with resplendent highs and rock solid bass. Audiophiles will find Prinz Eugen... a sonic spectacular.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140311)
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Langgaard, R.: Cpte Str Qt Wks V2 (2½, 4 "Sommerdage", Rosengaardsspil);
Nightin Qt [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Langgaard, R.: Cpte Str Qt Wks V1 (2, 3, 6, Vars on "Mig hjertelig...");
Nightin Qt [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
One of the most individualistic late Romantic composers, Denmark's Rued Langgaard (1893-1952) shunned the avant-garde in favor of tonal music with his own brand of impressionist symbolism and expressionism lying somewhere between Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) and Franz Schreker (1878-1934, see the newsletter of 20 November 2006). This is evident in his ten known works for string quartet that Dacapo has now begun exploring with these two recent hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), releases. Except for the third quartet these are the only currently available recordings of the selections included here.
The composer was an inveterate tinkerer who revised and reycled his oeuvre to the point where certain themes and occasionally whole movements recur in different works. Consequently there's great confusion over their chronological order (see the extensive album notes)! Bearing this in mind, the numbers Langgaard assigned to six of his quartets would seem to be more in line with when they were revised rather than originally completed.
The year 1918 saw him write music that would find its way into the fourth quartet, as well as two unnumbered ones. These fill the second volume disc pictured to the left, which begins with one of the latter titled Rosengaardsspil (Rose Garden Play). It's named after a house in southern Sweden where the twenty-year-old composer spent an emotionally charged summer having fallen in love with a girl who's only known to us today as Dora.
In four movements, the initial "Interiör" ("Interior") [T-1] is a delicate offering full of youthful longing. There are hints of the love songs "Gleich und Gleich" ("The Same and Equal"; SG) [02:59] and "Vergeblich" ("Vain"; SV) [06:18] from Langgaard's set of four Lieder von Goethe (Goethe Lieder, c. 1914; currently unavailable on disc).
The next "Mozart" movement [T-2] is a delightful classical confection that's in essence a scherzo. It couldn't be more different from the sad folkish "Draadefald" ("Drop Fall") [T-3], whose title is probably meant to imply a teardrop. But grief turns to contentment in the concluding "Rococo" [T-4] that brings Ravel's (1875-1937) baroque-oriented delicacies to mind.
The other unnumbered piece from 1918 is simply known as String Quartet and also in four movements. Coming between the initial version of the second (1918, revised 1931) and third (1924, see below), we've taken the liberty of designating it as “2½”.
The first two movements are tuneful creations that take their cue from Beethoven's (1770-1827) quartets. They are an allegro [T-5] with a few weeping, imitative developmental passages [03:07-06:10] typical of Langgaard, and a molto allegro scherzando [T-6] that adheres closely to classical standards.
However, Rued really comes into his own with the last two movements, the first of which is a lento dolente [T-7] of singular structural design. It begins with a fatalistic pizzicato riff (FP) [00:00] that recurs between three inventive arco variations based on FP [00:20, 01:34, 03:55]. The movement then ends in an FP-derived coda [04:51] bringing it full circle.
The final allegro [T-8] has highly agitated outer sections again reminiscent of Beethoven. However, they bookend a nostalgic pensive episode [01:23-05:44] that's all Langgaard, and augurs the progressive third quartet (see below), which would confound the Danish music critics.
The disc closes with the three-movement fourth quartet entitled "Sommerdage" ("Summer Days," 1931). This borrows from previous works, and is now in the bright key of F major, which was one of the composer's favorites.
The outer movements are drawn respectively from the beginning and ending ones in Rosengaardsspil mentioned above. More specifically the opening andantino... [T-9] is very similar to "Interiör" [T-1 above], while the concluding sostenuto [T-11] represents a considerably expanded version of "Rococo" [T-4 above] that begins and ends with allusions to SV [00:00 and 08:44].
On the other hand the center one [T-10] is a reworking of the second movement scherzo from the first quartet (1914-5), which will be on the next volume in this series. Marked scherzoso it’s now based on SG [00:03, 01:21, 02:50], and there are a couple of references to SV [01:03, 02:20].
Both of these releases feature the Nightingale Quartet, and were recorded by the same production staff between December 2010 and January 2013 at the Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Hall in Copenhagen. Consequently comments regarding the performances and sound will be found at the end of this article.
The other disc pictured to the right has three of the numbered quartets, and is filled out with a set of variations based on a timeless Bach (1685-1750) chorale. It opens with the second quartet, which like the above selections began life in 1918, but was revised in 1931. It's a stunning stylistic advance over anything on the preceding release, and portends Langgaard's iconoclastic tendencies, which would alienate the conservative Danish critics.
Along the lines of tone pictures, each of its four movements bear those descriptive epithets the composer was so fond of using (see 15 June 2008), the first being "I Bortdragende Stormskyer" ("Storm Clouds Receding") [T-1]. Here blustery bravura passages alternate with pensive ones, which ultimately bring the movement to a morose conclusion.
As far as programmatic railroad music goes, Langgaard got the jump on d'Indy (1851-1931, see 10 May 2011), Honegger (1892-1955) and Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) with the next "Bortkörende" ("Train Passing By") [T-2]. The opening measures make it easy to imagine a locomotive getting underway with a warning shriek from its whistle [00:04]. Then frenetic accelerating rhythmic riffs suggest it speeding down the tracks and out of sight.
"Skumrende Landskab" ("Landsacpe in Twilight") [T-3] limns a pastoral scene bathed in an auburn glow with a passing fiddler playing local folk tunes [02:01-03:10]. The final "Vandring" ("The Walk") [T-4] would seem to be more of a mental than physical peregrination with several thematic episodes of varying mood that come and go. They range from sorrowful [00:00] to anxious [01:22], devout [02:02] and whimsical [04:23].
The critics of Langgaard's time were nonplussed by the third quartet of 1924. But today it's considered a masterpiece with the most advanced Danish music that had appeared prior to Carl Nielsen's (1865-1931) saucy Sinfonia semplice (No. 6, 1935).
In three movements with more of those peculiar names, it's another stylistic leap forward right from the isolated stabbing forte chords opening the initial modified sonata form "Rovbegærligt" ("Rapacious") [T-5]. A highly chromatic, rhythmically jagged exposition [00:10] and development [02:16] are followed by a volatile recapitulation [06:04] to end the movement as advertised.
A short-lived antic scherzo entitled "Underfundigt" ("Artful") is next [T-6], after which we get the concluding "Spodsk" ("Scoffing") [T-7]. The latter begins with a devout chorale-like melody (DC) [00:00] Langgaard wrote for Danish poet B.S. Ingemann's (1789-1862) hymn "Den store mester kommer" ("The Great Master Comes," 1861). This is followed by three jeering variations [00:44, 02:35, 04:02], but DC persistently reasserts itself after each [02:08, 03:45, 04:37], ending the quartet piously.
The first few days of 1919 saw Langgaard complete a one-movement quartet also having Rosengaard associations (see above). Although premiered that same year, the composer then put it aside until sometime in the 1940s when he designated it as his sixth [T-8].
The piece falls generally into three parts. The first of these [00:00] consists of an amorous episode based on a wistful Swedish folk song (WS) about unrequited love, whose opening line is "Allt under himmelens fäste" ("Everything under the heavens") [01:58, 04:53]. It’s followed by an initially animated development of WS [02:53], which turns introspective [05:30].
Then we get a sudden change of pace with the interim section [08:10-09:43] that's a swirling waltz built around a folkish fiddle tune. Having the object of his affections at Rosengaard obviously in mind (see above), Langgaard concludes the work with a gorgeous final episode featuring another melancholy Swedish ditty, "Och hör du unga Dora..." ("Oh tell me now, young Dora...") [09:44]. The charming development [10:18-12:00], recap [12:01] and coda [13:17] that follow end the quartet with sublime amorous memories of days gone by.
The disc is filled out with a quartet that's a set of variations originally composed in 1914, and then shelved until the composer resurrected it in 1940. Based on a melody J.S. 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", see 13 January 2014), it's in the classical-early-romantic mold.
The main subject theme (MS) makes its only complete appearance in the introduction [T-9], and is succeeded by seven variations. The first of these [T-10] has the high strings descant over an MS-based cantus firmus played by the cello, while the next [T-11] is a scholarly fugato.
The following four variants are sobbing [T-12], lyrically tender [T-13], busily churning [T-14], and soulful [T-15]. Then the work ends with the most emotional of all [T-16], which recalls Beethoven's late quartets, and the fifteenth (Op. 132, 1825) in particular. It concludes the piece beholdenly with the first violin alluding to MS [00:57].
The Nightingale Quartet, which was formed in 2007 and named after Hans Christian Andersen's (1805-1875) eponymous fairy tale, is comprised of four young ladies who studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Music in Copenhagen. They have a collective temperament ideally suited to Langgaard's sometimes quirky creations, and acquit themselves well on these highly acclaimed releases.
Their perspicacious melodic phrasing, attention to dynamics, and well-chosen tempos give us some significant additions to the composer's recorded repertoire, and include the finest version of the third quartet now available. Hopefully their concluding efforts in this series will be just as rewarding.
The stereo tracks on these hybrid discs consistently project a generous soundstage with the instruments ideally placed and captured in nourishing reverberant surroundings. The instrumental tone is pleasing in all three play modes, but be forewarned that like Stenhammar's (1871-1927) quartets (see 6 February 2014), Langgaard's occasional stylistic eccentricities can produce somewhat steely strings. However, as is usually the case with hybrid releases, the SACD tracks produce a somewhat softer sounding sonic image.
Lastly, in the mutichannel mode the listener will find himself with a center orchestra seat a few rows back from the performers. There's also an increased sense of ambient space around each of the instruments, adding all the more clarity to Langgaard's more structurally dense passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140310, Y140309)
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Merikanto, A.: Sym 2 "War Symphony", Ekho; Komsi/Sakari/Turku PO [Alba (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Completing their survey of Finnish composer Aarre Merikanto's (1893-1958) symphonies (see 30 September 2012), Alba now gives us this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), release of his second that many may find the most impressive of the three. Coupled with his poem for soprano and large orchestra entitled Ekho, these are the only recordings of either currently available on CD.
A pupil of Max Reger (1873-1916, see 9 June 2009) in Berlin between 1912 and 1914, Merikanto got a thorough grounding in harmony and counterpoint. Then he moved on to Russia in 1915, where orchestration dominated two years of study with Sergei Vasilenko (1872-1956) at the Moscow Conservatory.
Written in 1918 after some military service during the Finnish Civil War, and accordingly titled "War Symphony," the second is in the conventional four movements. While Reger's teachings underlie it, Aarre was very much a free spirit as reflected in his emphasis on orchestral color and drama rather than structural rigor. That's particularly true of the initial allegro [T-1] that opens with a joyful victorious theme (JV) [00:04], which is immediately elaborated, and followed by a nostalgic related countermelody (NR) [02:40].
An imaginative development is next [04:02] harboring allusions to JV that become increasingly distraught, and transition into climatic passages with a grim recollection of it [07:42]. These die away after which JV returns with increasing confidence [08:50] preparing the way for a big tune recap of NR [11:09]. The movement then ends in a drum-accented coda with a final jubilant reference to JV [13:34].
The next allegro [T-2] is a singular Merikanto creation best described as a temperamental scherzo-rondo. The opening measures introduce a flighty modal-sounding theme (FM) [00:03], which is the seed from which the movement grows. A pensive episode follows [01:20], and then the pace soon quickens [01:57] with a repeated phrase akin to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" [02:15].
Another introspective section is next [03:24] with a sad derivative of FM [03:33] which gives way to a perky Slavic tune (PS) [04:04] that seems to reflect Aarre's years in Moscow. Oddly enough PS bears a resemblance to the Russian folk song Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) used for the main idea in the last movement of his Fate Symphony (No. 4, 1877-8). It's repeated nine times and followed by the return of FM [05:04], which is subjected to a whimsical development with more "rowing". After a short pause [07:16] the movement ends with melancholy memories of FM.
Next a dolorous impressionistic largo [T-3] bringing Ravel's (1875-1937) darker moments to mind. It's the symphony's longest, most contemporary sounding movement where there's a freedom of expression more typically found in late romantic tone poems.
To wit a meandering somber theme [00:08] of varying orchestral texture wends its way into an ominous climax with arresting trombone glissandi [07:43, 08:31, 09:36]. Then the music turns nostalgic and we get a crescendo of hope presumably for better times to come. However, pessimism prevails with the movement ending in a brass-initiated final outburst of despair.
The concluding allegro [T-4] begins with a rhythmically invigorated version of JV [00:01], which is subjected to a magnificent development that could be interpreted as a victory march. This transitions into a more subdued episode with allusions to NR [03:59, 04:24]. Then a combative, percussion fraught passage breaks out [05:44], suddenly erupting into a glorious final coda [07:11]. Based on NR and JV, it concludes the symphony in great triumph.
The disc is filled out with Merikanto's 1922 setting for soprano and orchestra of a poem by Finnish poet V.A. Koskenniemi (1885-1962). Entitled Ekho (Echo, see album notes for English and Finnish texts) [T-5] it's based on a Greek myth about a mountain nymph of that name and her unrequited love for the beautiful, vain Narcissus. Somewhat impressionistic like the largo above, it's even more progressive and headed towards the world of Expressionism (see 31 July 2013), but remains in the bounds of tonality.
Lasting about ten minutes, it opens dramatically [00:04] with Echo singing of her attempts to lure the handsome Narcissus into her arms. But to no avail as he's seen his reflection in a pool of water, and having fallen in love with it can only stare back at himself.
The more laid-back conclusion [05:31] has her bemoaning his preoccupation with his own image to the exclusion of her. Moreover, she compares her dying hopes for his ever noticing her to summer flowers withering with the approach of autumn [07:18].
An emotional passage follows [07:36] where she declares the voice of her desire for him "will sound on and on" long after she's dead. The poem then ends quietly [08:46] with Echo wistfully repeating her opening lines. It's by far the most advanced music here, and will require repeated listening to be fully appreciated.
As on Alba's previous release of Merikanto's other two symphonies (see 30 September 2012) Finland's oldest orchestra, The Turku Philharmonic, under their chief conductor Petri Sakari play this one with great commitment and sensitivity. The same can be said of the poem, which is compellingly delivered by Finnish soprano Anu Komsi.
Made by the identical personnel and at the same location (Turku Concert Hall, Finland) as before, the recordings are again impressive. The instrumental timbre is generally good, but massed upper string passages are more natural sounding on the SACD tracks, as is the case with Ms. Komsi's commanding voice.
The stereo tracks project an expansive soundstage in a reverberant enveloping venue. Audiophiles liking wetter sonics will find them demonstration quality, but those preferring a more delineated sonics may beg to differ.
The multichannel version assures you a center orchestra seat, and produces the warmest sound of all. Just make sure your subwoofer is activated to get the full effect of those pants-flapping, bass-drum-laced passages in the symphony [T-1, 11:02, 13:21-14:07; T-4, 00:01, 06:12-09:07].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140308)
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Montsalvatge: Manfred (bal ste), Bric à brac; Simfa de Rèquiem; Matheu/Pérez/Bar SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002) was one of the few twentieth century Catalonian composers who was educated exclusively in Spain, and would remain there for the rest of his life. The recipient of many prestigious awards, he was also a highly regarded music critic and teacher.
He openly acknowledged his search for elements to "light up" his music, which may explain why some of us find what seem like gratuitous spots in it. However, they're at a minimum in the three symphonic works on this CD, which represents his first appearance in these pages. Two of them are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.
Montsalvatge had an early interest in dance, and penned his first ballet at age twenty-two (1934). Then some twenty years later he composed an hourlong one called Manfred inspired by Lord Byron's (1788-1824) eponymous "metaphysical drama" (1916-7) written shortly after those vampire sketches we told you about (see 16 December 2013).
Set to a tragic, supernaturally tinged scenario ending with the guilt-ridden Manfred’s suicide, the complete ballet is not currently available on disc. But we have Xavier’s twenty-five minute seamless suite from it (1945, OCAR) as the first selection here [T-1].
The ominous beginning [00:03] hints at an anxious fateful theme (AF) that soon follows [01:44], and is dramatically developed. Then a downward run for the woodwinds [04:06] introduces a flighty, more optimistic idea [04:08]. This is elaborated into a lovely amorous AF-related melody (AA) for the clarinet [07:15]. It’s succeeded by a catchy, pizzicato-laced windblown episode [09:09], after which AA returns in even more romantic attire [10:35].
But the clouds of misfortune are gathering [11:40] and lead to a slow melancholy section [12:09] ending in forte chordal outbursts [13:10]. These give way to a vivacious number [13:28] worthy of Delibes (1836-1891), and a sweeping AA-related idea (SA) [13:55] presaging an old chestnut, Charles Williams' (1893-1978) title music (aka The Dream of Olwen) for the film While I Live (1947).
It ends in a drumroll [15:16] that introduces additional cloudy passages followed by a couple of spirited dances [15:54, 16:48]. Then we get a dreamy interlude [17:28] and nostalgic section [18:14] with some lovely clarinet [18:14] and violin [18:50] solos. The pace quickens with a curious chirpy episode [20:11], and the music intensifies into an exultant recap of SA [21:39] followed by additional comely clarinet [22:29] and violin [22:36] work.
Another drumroll [23:18] announces an ecstatic final coda recalling AF [23:33] that presumably extols Manfred's triumph over worldly concerns with the taking of his own life. It's a glorious ending to the most interesting work here, which may be cause for those who've never been that enamored of Montsalvatge to change their mind.
Xavier thought very highly of Bartók (1881-1945), Stravinsky (1882-1971) and Hindemith (1895-1963), which shows in the four-movement Bric à brac suite of 1993 (OCAR) that's next. This is particularly true of the latter composer where there are interesting parallels with his Theme and Variations for Piano and Strings subtitled "The Four Temperaments" (1940).
More specifically both pieces are concert hall works whose movements are associated with temperaments, which in Hindemith's case refer to personality types described by Hippocrates (460-370 BC) as melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric. What's more there's also a balletic common denominator considering Hindemith's was originally commissioned as a ballet by choreographer George Balanchine (1984-1983), while the Montsalvatge would make ideal material for one.
Bric à brac is Xavier's last orchestral work and opens with "Evocador" ("Evocative") [T-2] that’s an improvisation on what the album notes tell us is a Canary Islands' folk song. Here prickly outer sections bookend a gentle melody [02:44-03:58] which is presumably the subject tune. With rhythmic and harmonic inklings of Hindemith, there's a dispassion present appropriate to a phlegmatic personality.
Sadness and gloom characterize the moving melancholic "Sesgado" ("Slanted") [T-3], which begins with a plangent English horn solo [00:00] recalling Stravinsky's introspective moments. This transitions into frigid string passages [00:42] with harp embellishments, and a return of the cor anglais in the final measures [05:08].
There's a complete change of mood with the two brilliantly scored concluding movements, where there are suggestions of Bartók. "Tenso" ("Tense") [T-4] is a sanguine in the sense of spirited, percussion-spiked chachka. While "Lúdico" ("Playful") [T-5] with its moto perpetuo rhythms and ligneous snaps seems to characterize a choleric or crotchety personality. The spiciest tapas here, it’s a virtuosic challenge for everyone.
The final work titled Simfonia de Rèquiem (1985) brings to mind Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) Sinfonia da Requiem (1940). It's a twenty-minute spiritual symphonic suite in six movements, each of which was inspired by and named after a part of the traditional Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. There are a few optional words for solo soprano in the last.
Rather than being a sad jeremiad for the departed, this brilliantly scored work with a percussion section that includes a piano, is meant to express the promise of future hope and tranquility for their soul. The composer has marked each section with a word summarizing the feeling inspired in him by the Latin text that usually accompanies it. These sentiments are shown in parenthesis after their titles.
The opening "Introitus" ("Serenity") [T-6] begins with a low string pedal point, over which isolated notes for woodwinds and brass appear. These hint at the old familiar Dies Irae sequence (DIS) in the similarly named section of the mass (see below). DIS is then stated in more straightforward fashion [01:44] and developmentally manipulated, after which the movement ends much like it started.
Next we get "Kyrie" ("Supplication") [T-7] with serene outer passages that seem to represent a prayerful state of mind. They surround an agitated middle one [01:33-02:28] having hints of DIS that conjure up the sinful world of materialism, whose consequences are addressed in the succeeding "Dies Irae" ("Respect") [T-8]. The most dynamic movement yet, it begins with a brass crescendo [00:00] heralding a tempestuous DIS-streaked "Day of Judgement" [00:18]. This gradually abates, and the section concludes recapping its opening.
The following "Agnus Dei" ("Contemplation") [T-9] is a soothing reverie with mystical overtones, while "Lux Aeterna" ("Radiance") [T-10] evokes images of star-studded nebulae. It builds to a massive supernova climax that transitions directly into the wildly euphoric opening of the concluding "Libera me, Domine" ("Hope") [T-11].
An angelic voice is soon heard [01:22] vocalizing on the words "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Amen" ("Grant them eternal rest, O Lord. Amen."), and the work ends in a state of divine bliss. At Naxos prices this performance now takes pride of place.
Spanish conductor Victor Pablo Pérez and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, which also bills itself as the National Orchestra of Catalonia, deliver powerful, immaculate accounts of all three works. Soprano Marta Matheu gets a big hand for her contribution to Sinfonia da Requiem. This release should win many converts to Montsalvatge's music, and romantics will be particularly pleased to discover Manfred.
The wood-lined, warm reverberant Pau (Pablo) Casals Hall in Barcelona was the venue for these impressive recordings. They project a wide, chasmal soundstage that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. All the more colorful for Montsalvatge's brilliant orchestration, the instrumental timbre is characterized by shimmering highs, a slightly recessed but musical midrange, and clean bass. The Naxos production staff gets high marks for keeping the many instrumental solos in perfect balance with the rest of the orchestra.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140307)
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Spratley: Sym 3 "Sinfa Pascale", "Cargoes" Ste, Helpston Fant; Soloists/Vasiliev/Siber SO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The adventurous Toccata label gives us a second volume of English composer Philip Spratley's (b.1942, see 27 November 2009) orchestral oeuvre, which should have great appeal for those liking Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) music. All three works are first recordings
An orchestral suite entitled Cargoes (2010-2) after John Masefield's (1878-1967) eponymous poem (1902) from his Salt-Water Ballads (1902) is first. In three movements named after historical ship types that are the subjects for each stanza, it leads off with "Quinquereme" [T-1], which was an ancient Roman galley with five levels of oars.
In A-B-A form, the outer sections suggest gentle sparkling waters [00:02], hint at a rowing rhythm [00:09], and have a couple of exotic melodies [00:35, 02:57] suggesting the ship's precious cargo of ivory, rare animals, woods and wine. They surround a magic central section [05:05-07:20], which might well represent a balmy moonlit night on the Mediterranean. Brilliantly scored with some delicate percussion that includes tuned gongs, this is a strinking tone painting.
Moving along to the Age of Discovery we get "Stately Spanish Galleon" [T-2]. It begins with a slow ponderous theme (SP) for low strings [00:00], conjuring up images of a heavily laden treasure ship sailing through Caribbean waters. A complementary countersubject introduced by the trumpet soon follows [00:48], and then a sad saraband [02:18-05:37] that reaches prodigious proportions. It ends with the return of SP that leads directly into the tempestuous final movement reflecting modern times.
The subject here is an English coastal freighter, or as Masefield calls it a "Dirty British Coaster" [T-3]. It's riding out a March squall in the Channel with a drab commercial cargo as opposed to the valuable goodies on the first two ships. The music is accordingly raucous and coarse with colorful allusions to what would seem howling winds [00:00], monstrous waves [00:24], flashes of lightning [00:31], and even the ship's bell [01:11].
It's easy to imagine a vessel tossed about with crew members frantically battening down hatches and securing loose deck cargo. The storm intensifies throughout the movement, ending the suite in a watery musical chaos at times reminiscent of wilder moments in the battlefield section of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Ein Heldenleben (1897-8).
Spratley shares Vaughan Williams’ passion for folk music, and it shows in the next A Helpston Fantasia (2010) [T-4] named after British nature poet John Clare’s (1793-1864) hometown. Also an exceptional fiddler, Clare was one of the first to collect English folk material, which he wrote down in his book of fiddle tunes.
Philip borrows from it to come up with what he describes as a "free rondo" that opens with a Handel (1715-39) concerto-grosso-like introduction [00:00] with solo violin [00:35]. The main melody known as "Turnpike Gate" (TG) follows [00:58], and is rhythmically elaborated. After that we get "The Disconsolate Sailor" [02:48] and "Bath Waltz" [03:48] followed by some delightful variations on the latter.
Then things are off and running with the old familiar Scottish country dance tune "Devil Among the Tailors" [05:23]. The tempo slows as we make the acquaintance of three charming ladies, "Betty Brown" [07:05], "Black-Eyed Susan" [08:24], and "Lovely Nancy" [09:41]. The work closes with references to "Saxe Coburg" [10:35] and "Roodlum Irish" [11:22], which along with reminders of TG [11:51] are worked into the spirited finale of this fetching folk medley.
The program concludes with Spratley' third symphony from 2009. With Easter associations, it's entitled "Sinfonia Pascale" and in three movements. These were inspired by Duilio Cambellotti's (1876-1960) stained-glass window triptych in the Jerusalem Church of the Flagellation commemorating aspects of Christ's trial.
The initial "Allegro tempestuoso" relates to the scourging of Jesus [T-5], and is in modified sonata form. It begins tumultuously [00:00] with Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) overtones [00:44], and a savage menacing theme (SM) [01:02]. This transitions into a humble hymnlike melody (HH) [03:20] that's elaborated, and followed by a dramatic development [05:42] containing a third pitiable idea (TP) [06:29].
More SM references invoke images of cruel Romans with whips, while HH and TP would seem to represent the bleeding figure of Christ. The movement then ends with a recap of SM [10:08] and HH [11:17] followed by a frenetic SM-based concluding coda.
Pontius Pilot wash his hands is represented in the next Nocturne [T-6] that starts with a sad despairing theme (SD) for flute and strings [00:00]. They're joined by other woodwinds turning this into an anguished contemplation.
The harp then announces a strange episode, which is occasionally scherzo-like [05:15-08:15]. With tinkling percussion that includes vibraphone and harp, it introduces a melodized variant of SD [07:08], which soon becomes a massive chorale [08:16]. This fades via vacillating passages that a bit outstay their welcome [09:11], and we get a last reminder of the movement's opening measures [11:38].
The symphony ends in a musical impression of the third window whose subject is the release of Barabbas, which confirmed Jesus' crucifixion. Marked Chaconny [T-7], it's a loosey-goosey chaconne-passacaglia where it's hard to come up with any underlying scenario.
A forte drumroll and brass-reinforced opening [00:00] quote the first part of SM (see above), which is the seed for the movement's main idea (MI) soon to come. The music then fades into a subdued pizzicato passage [00:44] that initiates an extended SM-laced stream of consciousness development.
MI gradually materializes out of all this busywork [07:21] to become the subject of a fugato [08:30]. After that MI gracefully floats above a subdued shivering episode [09:25] with more Tchaikovsky coloring [10:30], and becomes the subject of a concluding manic coda.
Following their acclaimed Shebalin (1902-1963) release for Toccata (see 21 December 2012), conductor Dmitry Vasiliev and the Siberian Symphony Orchestra now give us this equally well played Spratley disc. The composer attended the recording sessions, and has nothing but praise for these fine musicians. Their performances are energetic in keeping with Spratley's young at heart style, yet sensitive and passionate in his more reflective moments.
Like the earlier CD these recordings were made at the newly remodeled Omsk Philharmonic Hall in Siberia (see the album notes), and project a deep, narrowly focused soundstage in warm surroundings. The orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasing highs, a musical midrange, and rock-bottom rubbery lows. Those having systems with tone and/or equalization controls may want to trim the bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140306)
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