CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
9 APRIL 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.
Bausznern, W. von; Oct (pno, 3 vns, fl, cl, vc, db), Seren (vn, cl, pno), Elegie; BerolEn [MD&G (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
Born in Berlin, Waldemar von Bausznern (also Baussnern or Baußnern, 1866-1931) grew up in an area that was Hungarian-ruled, but is now part of Rumania. He then went on to study music back in Berlin (1882-6) with Friederich Kiel (1821-1885, see 27 February 2008) and Robert Schumann's (1810-1856, see 28 April 2007) brother-in-law, Woldemar Bargiel (1828-1897), who considered him his most gifted pupil.
This was borne out by his becoming a highly regarded German conductor and educator who appointed such greats as Franz Schreker (1878-1934), Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Paul Hindemith (1895-1963) to teaching positions. But Bausznern was also a prolific composer who wrote in every genre including chamber music, three selections of which are presented on this new MD&G hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), release. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
While he generally falls into the German romantic category, his mixed sociological background would seem to explain the colorful Eastern European folk influences present in some of his works. This is particularly true of the first, which is an octet written just before the outbreak of World War I (WWI, 1914-18).
The composer tells us it's dedicated to "the land of his childhood," which was Transylvania, then belonging to Hungary. The unusual scoring for piano, three violins, flute, clarinet, cello and double bass brings to mind a Hungarian Gypsy band with the piano replacing the traditional cimbalom. Incidentally this performance is based on the original manuscript.
Somewhat of a Magyar musical travelogue, it's in five movements with the first entitled "Zug durch die Puszta" ("Procession Through the Puszta") [T-1]. This paints a picture of a slow moving caravan crossing the vast deserted Hungarian grassland plains, somewhat along the lines of Borodin's (1833-1887) In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880).
The next "Czardas" [T-2] is an animated, alternately fast and slow change of pace with lovely Eastern melodies and catchy rhythms bringing to mind local folk festivals. Then we journey westward for "Wienerischer Ländler" ("Viennese Ländler') [T-3], which is a charming musical impression characterizing the waltz capital of the world.
"Ungarische Trauermusik' ("Hungarian Funeral Music") [T-4] is atypically only for solo piano. There's a gravitas recalling the darker passages in Franz Liszt's (1811-1886) Hungarian Rhapsodies (1846-86) and the "March funèbre" (“Funeral March”) from Chopin's (1810-1849) second piano sonata (1837-9). Then the whole ensemble returns, and the mood brightens with the concluding "Thema mit Variationen” ("Theme and Variations") [T-5].
Twice as long as any of the other movements, this is of Austrian persuasion with Magyar moments. A mellifluous folkish tune worthy of Schubert (1797-1828) is the main subject (MS) [00:00]. Initially played by the clarinet [00:00], the cello then introduces a jovial bouncy first variation [01:38], flute a flighty second [03:17], and piano a waltzlike third [04:56].
Hungarian influences pervade the thrilling Tzigane fourth [07:03], which alludes to the Rákóczi March (RM) [07:03] of around 1730 (see 15 April 2009). The melancholy songlike fifth [08:10] ends in a subdued passage that bridges via a double bass pedal point [12:04] into a final epilogue.
This begins with the piano slowly playing the opening of the German National Anthem [12:49-13:37] set to the main tune from the second movement of Franz Joseph Haydn's (1732-1809) Emperor String Quartet (Op. 76, No. 3; c. 1799). Then we get passing hints of RM [12:46] and finally MS [14:29, 15:45] to close the octet sadly, which in retrospect befits Hungary's loss of Transylvania to Romania shortly after WWI.
One of the composer's most popular pieces that was frequently played in European salons of his day, the Elegie [T-6] for violin or cello and piano (c. 1911; violin here) follows. Its contemplative opening engenders a winsome melody [05:10] that grows, and then gradually recedes into oblivion.
Devotees of Brahms' (1833-1897) chamber music for clarinet that's some of his last (1891-4) and most sublime, will love the concluding selection, Waldemar's Serenade for violin, clarinet and piano of 1898. In four informal movements, the initial "Ruhig, graziös" ("Peaceful, graceful") [T-7] is a nimble folklike offering with Eastern European colorations.
Next we get "Möglichst schnell, ausgelassen" ("Fast as possible, exuberant") [T-8]. This is a virtuosic romp with attractive melodic spinoffs, one of which [03:33, 05:21] strays south of the border into Dvorák (1841-1904) Slavonic Dance (1878-87) territory. The charming ¾ time respite marked "Sehr ruhig" ("Very peaceful") that follows [T-9] is based on a simple flowing melody (SF) [00:05].
Then the serenade concludes "Mit Grazie und Humor" ("With grace and humor") [T-10]. This gets off to a fidgety start, after which the piano introduces a childlike skipping idea [00:34] counterbalanced by a singing SF-related tune [01:49]. The two become subjects of a fetching rondo that ends the serenade uneventfully. Schumann, Brahms and/or Dvorák lovers will not be disappointed!
Established in 2009 the Berolina Ensemble does the honors here giving us splendid readings of these pieces. Known for ferreting out little known works by late classical and romantic composers that have undeservedly disappeared from the concert hall, they've come up with some exceptional discoveries as on this release.
MD&G produces some of the today's finest sounding chamber music discs, and this one is no exception! Made last April in the concert hall of the beautiful twelfth century Abbey at Marienmünster, Germany, the two stereo tracks project an ideally proportioned soundstage in warm surroundings. The multichannel one gives the listener a center orchestra seat.
The instrumental timbre is musical in all three play modes with the SACD ones marginally more lifelike. Adept solo highlighting and balancing, particularly in the colorfully scored octet, prevail throughout.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140409)
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Bax: Sym in F (1907, rlz & orch Yates); Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
QUESTIONABLE (1 CD)
The snowballing demand for silver discs since their introduction in 1982 has led classical record companies to turn increasingly to rare repertoire. Accordingly a number of their releases inevitably strike some as curiosities of minimal lasting value.
This is of course a matter of personal taste, for as the old expression goes, "One man's meat is another man's poison!" Consequently we've refrained from writing up albums we felt fell into this category. But with the glut of discs currently flooding the market, it now seems time to tell you about some we've played and found wanting, which we'll categorize as "Questionable".
British composer Arnold Bax's (1883-1953) Symphony in F predates his seven numbered ones (1922-39) by fifteen years. Completed in piano score during a trip to Dresden (1907), he never orchestrated it because he could never get the promise of a performance.
Enter our conductor here Martin Yates, who realized it in full score for this world premiere recording made in 2013. In four movements lasting a little over eighty minutes, it's the longest work Arnold ever wrote except for the unperformed ballet Tamara of 1911, and Yates is to be commended for an imposing reconstruction effort.
Unfortunately many will find it lax Bax with an informality making it more of a ballet in four scenes than a symphony. The last movement at twenty-five minutes is the longest [T-4] with occasional passages smacking of Glazunov's (1835-1936) symphonies (1881-1906), which the album notes tell us Arnold liked to play as piano duets.
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) gives it their best with reconstructionist Yates at the helm, delivering what must be a definitive reading! But considering the source material, this will probably be the only recorded performance of it for some time to come. The sound is tolerably bright.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Q140408)
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Bush, A.: Africa (pno & orch), Sym 2 "Nottingham", Fant on Soviet...; Donohoe/Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
QUESTIONABLE (1 CD)
Those who consider English composer Alan Bush's (1900-1995) output uneven will most likely find the selections on this disc regrettably on the downside. To wit, Africa (1913) [T-1] like some deranged dog chases its own tail, and Fantasia on Soviet Themes (1942-4) [T-8] is a mundane nationalistic potboiler ginned up by a composer who had strong communist sympathies.
While it's the most interesting work here, the Nottingham Symphony (No. 2, 1949) is nothing to write home about either, and has appeared previously on disc. If you already have it, you certainly don't need this one.
In four programmatic pastoral movements, the first two [T-4 and 5] are ordinary garden-variety fare followed by a busy, trite scherzo [T-6]. The colorfully scored fourth [T-7], which is by far the most entertaining, ends the symphony festively with a musical impression of the annual Nottingham Goose Fair.
Pianist Peter Donohoe gives Africa the old college try, and as on the Bax above, Martin Yates once again leads the RSNO in spirited performances. Done at the same location by the identical production staff as the Bax, the sound is identical.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Q140407)
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Foulds: Undine, Chinese & Miniature Stes; 7 Short Orch Wks; Corp/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Dutton scores big-time again with this third volume in their continuing exploration of English composer John Foulds' (1880-1939) orchestral music (see 31 May 2012). All ten selections are world premiere recordings, and include three more of his suites (see 10 March 2011).
The first of the latter titled Undine (c. 1898) is the composer's earliest surviving work, and it's hard to believe such an accomplished piece could have come from a teenager. In three movements it may relate to the fairy tale about the mythological water nymph of that name (see the exemplary album notes by music critic and Foulds champion Malcolm MacDonald).
The initial "Prelude Romantique" [T-1] is a charming waltz that brings Smetana (1824-1884) and Dvorák (1841-1904) to mind. While the laid-back "Barcarolle des Undine" [T-2] is a comely folkish cavatina.
In closing we get "Carnaval, et minuet de Mäia" that sports festive outer sections auguring Malcolm Arnold's (1921-2006) orchestral dances (1950-86). They surround a relaxed minuet [03:50-06:57] that would seem to be associated with the Greek goddess Mäia. Her role in all this remains a mystery, but this charming suite of balletic music speaks for itself.
Foulds wrote incidental music for a considerable number of stage works (see 10 March 2011), one of which was Harold Chapin's (1886-1915) 1912 children's play Wonderful Grandmamma, or The Wand of Youth -- shades of Elgar (1857-1934). Originally consisting of an overture and thirty-seven numbers, the complete score is now lost, but fortunately John made a four-movement distillation of it the following year (1913), which turned up in 1982.
Called Miniature Suite (1913) it opens with "The Old Castle" [T-12] built on a venerable adamantine theme made all the more imposing by extended horn passages. The next "Robin Goodfellow" [T-13], or Puck in Shakespeare's (c. 1564-1616) A Midsummer Night's Dream (1590-6), is a mischievous mercurial notion.
It's followed by "In the Forest: The Mocking Bird" [T-14] that has decorative harp passages and avian woodwind calls surrounding one of those lovely Fouldsian themes [01:18-02:01]. The final "Scarabang and His minions" [T-15] is an infectious march number with an initial lumbering ursine bassoon tune [00:07] presumably representing Scarabang. The jolly idea that follows would seem to characterize his minions [01:22], and ends the suite in a state of inept exuberance.
Foulds had a gift for writing pieces he convincingly instilled with musical elements borrowed from other cultures as exemplified by the remaining selections on this disc. Beginning close to home in the Scottish-Celtic tradition, there's A Gaelic Dream-Song of 1922 [T-9], which recalls his most popular piece known as "A Lament!" from the Keltic Suite (1911, see 13 December 2010). The work here begins with a gorgeous fiddle tune [00:14] that's soon taken up by the full orchestra, only to fade away with the violin having the last say.
Next stop, Spain, which is represented by a couple of selections, the first being Scène Picaresque subtitled "Spanish Serenade" (1936) [T-16]. This is an attractive creation with a winsome swaying outer theme [00:02] surrounding a rhythmically Latin-flavored episode [01:20-02:12] reinforced by castanets and whacks on the bass drum. The piece ends with a macho toss of the head.
The other Iberian number, Basque Serenade (c. 1937-8) [T-10] sounds more Northern European except for the presence of castanets. In A-B-A form it's comprised of lilting outer sections set to a strumming rhythm, which sandwich a comely cantilena [02:26-04:17].
Then it's off to Hungary for Gipsy Czárdás (Tzigeuner) (1935) [T-17]. Published under the pseudonym "Karl Kotschka" probably in hopes of giving this ersatz Magyar effort an air of authenticity, it's a worthy successor to John's "Romany from Bohemia" movement in his Holiday Sketches (1908, see 13 December 2010). The haughty introduction gives way to a wild czardas where the influences of Liszt (1811-1886) and Brahms (1833-1897) are manifest. It then ends with that old familiar Hungarian "da-daa, da-daa, daa, bum-bum-bum" cadence [06:22].
Fould's had a strong interest in Eastern music, especially that of India, where he would move with his family in 1935, and sadly die of cholera four years later at age fifty-eight. But he's survived by several of his Indian-influenced pieces, three of which are included here. Kashmiri Wedding Procession of 1936 [T-11] was inspired by a village ceremony he actually attended. Based on a melody he heard and wrote down on the spot, it's an atmospheric minimasterpiece -- Delius (1862-1934, see 29 December 2009) rollover!
It depicts the nuptial procession leisurely wending its way through an exotic landscape. Joyously subdued outer passages enclose a perky tambourine-enhanced dance episode [01:27-02:25], and then the piece ends with a smile.
Dating from the same year there's Kashmiri Boat Song on Jhelum River (1936) [T-18]. A sublime musical invocation of a trip John took on that river, this beautifully scored miniature invokes images of sparkling waters, a gentle rocking boat, the sweeping movement of its oars, and maybe even the distant snowcapped Himalayas. A later, more westernized version simply called Kashmiri Boat Song (1938) is also included [T-4].
Finally moving to the northeast, we get the Chinese Suite of 1935. Unlike the Indian Suite (1932-5), see 10 March 2011), Foulds apparently doesn't quote any local tunes, preferring to fabricate his own, infusing them with elements of that country's music. Consisting of four programmatically named sections, the first "In the Gardens of Bliss (Pei Hai)" [T-5] has an imperious opening recalling Puccini's (1858-1924) Turandot (1926), and hinting at the chipper Chinese-accented theme (CC) that soon appears [00:12].
The following "In the Perfume Pagoda (Fo Hsiang Ko)" [T-6] is a delicately scored piece succeeded by a commanding "Procession to the Temple of Heaven" [T-7]. This sets the stage for the entrance of "The Ming Mandarin (Kuan)" [T-8], who would seem to be a benevolent, jocund fellow. The suite ends with a jolly reminder of CC [02:49].
As on their previous Foulds disc (see 10 March 2011), conductor Ronald Corp and the BBC Concert Orchestra (BBCO) add that little extra touch that makes this music more than ordinary "Pops" fare. Once again a number of the BBCO musicians get a round of applause for their beautifully played solos. Foulds couldn't have better advocates!
Made in London at Abbey Road Studio One, which is one of the world's largest recording venues, this disc projects a wide but somewhat distant soundstage in vast surroundings. Consequently the overall instrumental timbre seems oriented more to the highs, and audiophiles having equalization and/or tone controls may want to twiddle them accordingly.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140406)
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Matthews, D.: Sym 7, Vespers; Carewe/Bray/Long/Hill/Bourn SO/Bach C [Dutton]
QUESTIONABLE (1 CD)
Dutton continues their ongoing survey of contemporary British composer David Matthews' (b. 1943) music with this release, which includes his seventh and last symphony (2008-9) to date. In three contiguous movements the opening one is a vacuous allegro [T-8] that ends in a gratuitous percussive outburst. This erupts into a magmatic meno mosso (slower) [T-9] section that’s a ponderous musing.
Woodwind flourishes then bridge into the final allegro [T-10], which is a cinematic peroration of the opening one. Although it’s the symphony's high point, in the long run it probably won’t make the work any more acceptable to those who were disappointed with his previous ones released by Dutton a few years ago (7222 and 7234).
The disc also has Matthews' forty-five-minute Vespers of 1993-6. In seven parts, four have Latin texts he's tweaked to embrace all major religions, and three are settings of Rilke (1875-1926) poems. One of the latter, "The light shouts in your tree-top," begins the work [T-1], and is arguably its inspirational zenith.
The following "Alma Redemptoris Mater" [T-2] is a perplexing combination of overwrought orchestral passages and protracted choral musings. Then there's another Rilke poem "If only there were stillness" [T-3], which is sung by a mezzo with a vibrato wide enough to induce "keysickness". On the other hand "Laudate pueri" [T-4] and "Pulchra es" [T-5] include a tenor and chorus who keep things on a more even keel.
“Magnificat” [T-6] seems in search of itself, and has more mezzo-warbling. Then the work closes with a final Rilke number, "All will grow great and powerful again" [T-7], which is pleasant enough, but pales in comparison to the opening one.
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is in residence for both works with John Carewe conducting the symphony, and David Hill the vespers. Mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, tenor Matthew Long and the London-based Bach Choir join Maestro Hill for the latter. The orchestral playing is good across the board with excellent choral support. Ms. Bray's singing as noted above is something else again, while Mr. Long's is commendable. Most will find the sound aggressive but acceptable.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Q140405)
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Moniuszko: 10 Ovs (Halka, Haunted Manor, Paria, Raftsman, Verbum nobile, etc); Wit/Warsaw PO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A couple of Polish composer Stanislaw Moniuszko's (1819-1872) one-act operas have appeared in these pages (see 29 June 2010 and 8 April 2013), and those hesitant to go for the whole enchilada can now sample them with this invaluable new Naxos release devoted to ten of his overtures. Two are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.
The program starts with the composer's first substantial work for full orchestra, the concert overture Bajka (The Fairy Tale, 1848) [T-1]. Programmatic sounding but with no underlying story provided, it portends Smetana's (1824-1884) early tone poems (1857-61), and opens with a princely march tune (PM) [00:01]. A lovely sinuous melody suggesting a beautiful princess follows [02:37], and then some mischievous Dishonest John music (DJ) [05:12] hinting at ahead.
This transitions into a gently rocking episode [07:31] that might well characterize an amorous assignation. However, there's mischief afoot with more DJ passages [08:40] having some catchy skittering riffs (CS) [09:15, 09:30] presaging those in Smetana's overture to The Bartered Bride (1863-70). But a PM-related fanfare [12:05] followed by PM itself [12:42] announce the return of the prince [12:05]. Then in a thrilling coda he presumably triumphs over adversity to end this symphonic fable with everyone living happily ever after.
The remaining nine selections are all from operas, beginning with Paria of 1859-69 [T-2]. Set in India, the composer once referred to it as his most successful stage work, but some critics apparently felt it wasn't Eastern-sounding enough to sustain interest.
That's decidedly not true of the overture, which begins with an attention-getting dramatically agitated opening (DA) [00:00] succeeded by a lilting wistful episode (LW) [01:18-05:54]. DA then returns followed by LW [07:19], and the music grows in strength. The overture then concludes ominously with a final reminder of DA [09:24].
Halka began life as a two-act drama in 1848, and was later expanded to four (1858), winning the composer international acclaim. There are echoes of Carl Maria von Weber's overture to (1786-1826) Der Freischütz (1817-21) in the subdued opening [T-3, 00:01] that initially alternates with a bouncy rustic ditty [01:10]. The memorable themes that follow, which are respectively fleeting (MF) [03:12] and commanding (MC) [03:43], show Moniuszko for the great melodist he was.
A clever development is next. Then we get a dramatic recap starting with a reminder of MF [06:04] that’s transformed into a big nationalistic tune [06:39]. A thrilling final coda based on MC [07:17] ends the overture to what remains his most popular opera.
Selections from those two one-act operas mentioned above follow. Titled Verbum nobile (Nobleman's Word, 1860-1; see 8 April 2013), and Flis (The Raftsman, 1858; see 29 June 2010), you'll find the first [T-4] a lighthearted offering setting the tone for this well-meaning parody of the Polish gentry.
The next [T-5] is a thrilling harbinger of the beloved bustling Bartered Bride Overture (1866), which in retrospect sounds tame compared to it. A flowing first theme suggests the Vistula River, along whose banks the opera takes place. But the music soon turns tempestuous depicting whistling winds [04:08], rolling thunder [05:18], and flashing lightning [06:47] from a violent passing storm. It makes those in Rossini's (1792-1868) William Tell Overture (1829) and Suppé's (1819-1895) Poet and Peasant (1846, see 25 February 2013) sound like tempests in a teapot. For those who don't know it, this irresistible orchestral gem will be a major discovery!
The comic opera Hrabina (The Countess, 1859; currently unavailable on disc) that's next is a social satire contrasting elite French-speaking and traditional patriotic elements in early nineteenth century Polish society. Accordingly the overture [T-6] samples several of the opera's memorable melodies, which are drawn from folk sources as well as popular songs of the period.
The jaunty opening hints at a festive polonaise that becomes the subject of back to back balletic episodes [03:19 and 06:03]. These are followed by a sprightly march number [07:28], which is the centerpiece of a festive finale.
Despite its title, Straszny dwór (The Haunted Manor, 1864) is another comic opera. Based on a Polish folk tale it was seen as having patriotic content, and coming on the heels of the Polish uprising in 1863-5 (shades of the current Ukrainian-Crimean crisis), suppressed by Tsarist-siding sensors. However, it made a triumphant comeback seven years later, and many now regard it as his greatest achievement.
Rather than a formal overture, it’s a brief scene-setting prelude [T-7, OCAR] which begins threateningly, but becomes more benign with a relaxed folklike melody [00:34]. This builds into a nationalistic big tune that fades away ending this attractive opener quietly.
Around 1850 Moniuszko wrote an operetta titled Cyganie (The Gypsies), later reworking it into the two-act idyll Jawnuta of 1860 (currently unavailable on disc). With subject matter like this it's not surprising the overture [T-8] reflects strong influences from south of the border down Hungary way. A terse dancelike offering, it augurs the more folksy-sounding moments in Karl Goldmark (1830-1915).
The disc closes with two Moniuszko rarities. The first prefaces his Nowy Don Kiszot, czli Sto szalenstw (The New Don Quixote, or 100 Follies, 1841; currently unavailable on disc), which is from an early three-act operatic farce about that loony Spanish knight immortalized in Cervantes' (1547-1616) classic novel (1605-15). It's accordingly a light pops-like piece with Rossiniesque overtones, and some winsome themes again demonstrating what a magnificent tunesmith Moniuszko was.
The last selection comes from Kochanka hetmanska (The Hetman's Mistress, 1854; currently unavailable on disc), which the composer only scored for piano four-hands, but was later orchestrated by his compatriot Zygmunt Noskowski (1846-1909, see 22 June 2011), giving us what's here [T-10, OCAR]. It takes the form of a folk-derived miniature dance suite that ends this irresistible CD on a real high.
Conductor Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra once again team up to give us another memorable Naxos disc of Polish goodies. Moniuszko's music is very tempo dependent and Wit invariably gets them just right as opposed to conductors on other recordings of these overtures, particularly Flis, who either drag their feet or rush to the finish line.
Made on several occasions in 2011 at Warsaw Philharmonic Hall, the recordings are very consistent, and project a wide clearly defined soundstage in a pleasantly reverberant venue. The instrumental timbre is characterized by a musical midrange, however there is some digital grain in massed upper violin passages, and the bass though deep is a tad blurry. That said, Moniuszko's sparkling music will have audiophiles soon forgetting any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140404)
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Rasse: Pno Trio; Ryelandt: Pno Trio 1; Vreuls: Pno Trio; I Giocat Pno Trio [Phaedra]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
The three piano trios by late romantic Belgian composers François Rasse (1873-1955), Joseph Ryelandt (1870-1965) and Victor Vreuls (1876-1944) on this new Phaedra release are welcome additions to the genre! These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program begins with the Rasse completed in 1897 after he'd finished his studies at the Brussels Conservatory, where Eugène Ysaÿe (1858-1931, see 21 September 2011) was his violin teacher. Dedicated to him, it's in three movements and commences with an allegro appassionato [T-1] having a pensive introductory thought (PI) [00:00] that curiously enough echoes the "River Rhine" leitmotif heard at the outset of Wagner's Das Rheingold (1853-4). PI hints at what's to come, and will also serves as a unifying idea throughout the piece.
Two related but different thematic groups follow, the first being agitated [00:44] and the second a lovely lyrical pizzicato-accented offering (LP) [01:54]. PI then returns [02:46] followed by a harmonically searching development. This ends with reminders of LP and PI [05:33] that bring the movement to a peaceful conclusion.
The andante [T-2] also harbors two contrasting ideas, a repeated sighing five-note idea (SF) [00:06] and a sumptuous extended related countersubject (SE) [01:16]. A meditative development of SF and SE follows [02:39] with hints of PI, and quietly fades away.
The intricately structured closing Interlude et final [T-3] shows what a master craftsman Rasse was! It begins with a valiant swashbuckling motif (VS) [00:00] that's elaborated and followed by a PI-derived lyrical melody (PL) [01:14]. There are allusions to PI followed by a development of PL and VS. Then the trio ends in an exuberant chromatically driven PI-based coda reminiscent of César Franck (1822-1890), whose cyclic principles prevail.
Ryelandt, who is one of Belgium's better known composers, wrote three piano trios, but destroyed his youthful initial effort. The first of the two remaining ones, which dates from 1914-5, comes next, and is only in two movements. The initial sonata form allegro [T-4] gets off to a querulous start with an anxious theme [00:00] that's followed by a contrasting lyrical chanson-like melody [01:07]. The two are skillfully developed [02:50] and recapped in reverse order [05:23] to end the movement apprehensively.
The concluding andante [T-5] is a theme followed by seven variations, and begins with the piano stating the childlike main subject (MS) [00:00]. The first variant is a more ornate version of MS featuring the violin [01:05], and the second a weightier transformation underscored by the cello [02:03].
The third and fourth are respectively dancelike [02:51] and rhapsodic [03:21]. Then we get a whimsical fifth [03:59], lamenting sixth [05:25] and mystical seventh [06:38], which ends the trio with pious memories of MS.
The name of Victor Vreuls will be new to most, but he was an extremely talented musician who was a private pupil of Vincent d'Indy (1861-1931, see 10 May 2011). He had a distinguished career in France, Luxembourg and Belgium as a violinist, conductor, educator, and composer whose oeuvres include a number of chamber pieces. One of them written when he was around twenty was his opus 1 piano trio (c.1896), which fills out this disc.
At a little over half an hour it's the longest work here, and in the usual three movements. The opening one marked "Impétueux" [T-6] lives up to its name, bursting on the scene impetuously [00:00] with an aggressive masculine motif (AM) [00:02]. AM is briefly explored, and followed by a related caressing feminine melody (CF) [01:03].
AM and CF are subjected to a sweeping d'Indyesque development (DD) [02:01], where fragments of each are deftly juggled, keeping the listener on the edge of his seat. The music then becomes increasingly impassioned with AM fueling a final coda [11:12] that ends the movement perfunctorily.
The next slow "Modérément lent" [T-7] has an emotionally searching opening, which hints at a sublime theme that soon dominates its passionate midsection [04:19-08:31]. The rapt conclusion is very touching, and sets the tone for "Simple et calme" [T-8].
This starts with an amatory caressive theme (AC) [00:00] having imbedded hints of the angular athletic countersubject (AA) that soon follows [02:49]. Siblings of AM and CF parentage, they are the subjects for another extensive d'Indy-like development, in which AC makes a big tune appearance [04:35]. Not to be outdone, AA then tries to take over, and at one point becomes quite aggressive showing its AM side [06:45].
But in the end animosity turns to goodwill [07:14] and a joyful crescendo, leaving the listener anticipating an overpowering conclusion. Not! Vreuls fools us all ending his meticulously crafted trio with a hushed reminder of AM's first three notes.
These superb performances are by the Belgian piano trio known as I Giocatori (The Players). Formed in 1998, each of its prize-winning musicians is obviously a virtuoso in his own right, but together they give us a rich ensemble sound where their technical mastery is used only in service to the music. They make a strong case for these unjustly forgotten scores that have gathered dust far too long!
Recorded early last year at the Miry Concert Hall of the Royal Conservatory in Ghent, Belgium, the soundstage is suitably proportioned in a nourishing acoustic. The placement and balance between the instruments is ideal and the overall instrumental timbre natural.
That said there's a hint of edginess in the violin's upper registers, but the cello sound remains convincing throughout. The piano is generally well captured except for some isolated midrange breakup. All in all, this is a good sounding disc that's just short of audiophile.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140403)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Schmitt, F.: Petit elfe... (cpte bal), Introit… (vc & orch); Martin/Demarquette/Mercier/LorrNa O [Timpani]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
It's been almost five years since French composer Florent Schmitt (1870-1958) last appeared in these pages (see 31 October 2009). However, his little known ballet and cello suite on this new Timpani release make it well worth the wait, particularly since they're the only recordings of them currently available on disc. Those liking Ravel's (1875-1937) L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Bewitched Child, 1920-5) won't want to be without the ballet!
It originated as a suite for piano four hands known as Les songes de Hjalmar (Hjalmar's Dreams, 1912; currently unavailable on disc) inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's (1805-1875, see 16 December 2013) fairy tale Ole-Luk-Oie, the Dream God (1842). Schmitt wrote it with his six-year-old son in mind, and then in 1923 expanded it into a piece titled Le petit elfe ferme-l'oeil (The Little Elf Sleepy-eyes). Later that year he arranged it for orchestral giving us the ballet score presented here.
Its subject matter and genesis resemble his close friend Maurice Ravel's Ma mère l'oye (Mother Goose), which started out as a piano duet suite (1908) and eventually also became a ballet (1911), making one wonder whether Schmitt got the idea from him. In any case those liking the Ravel will love this!
At this point we should note it has a busy scenario involving an intricate plot with a variety of fairy tale characters, and there's not enough room to get into it here. Fortunately the album booklet includes an invaluable synopsis of it.
Consisting of a conjoined prelude [T-1] and seven scenes, the sixth of which has a song for mezzo-soprano, it opens with what we'll call a "once upon a time" motif (OU) [00:02]. Oddly enough this recalls the beginning of Dukas' (1865-1935) L'apprenti sorcier (The Sorcerer's Apprentice, 1897).
The music then becomes increasingly animated with overtones of Stravinsky's (1882-1971) early ballets [03:24] as mouse and rat-costumed dancers begin to come on stage (see the synopsis). This leads directly to the first scene "La fête nationale des souris" ("The Mice's National Holiday") [T-2], which starts with a breathtaking dance having a quiet ending smacking of Rimsky-Korsakov's (1804-1908) Capriccio espagnol (1887) [02:27].
It's followed by a peckish passage (see the synopsis) that transitions directly into "La cigogne lasse" ("The Weary Stork") [T-3]. With a languorous opening worthy of Debussy (1862-1918) and some arresting drum thumps [03:45], after a brief pause we get a rousing horn theme [04:40].
This is followed by a spikey passage bridging directly into "Le cheval de ferme-l'Oeil" ("Ole-Luk-Oie's Horse') [T-4], which begins with a spirited dance [00:05]. It's succeeded by a momentary pause and somber sensual episode [01:44] recalling Florent's previous ballet La tragedie de Salome (1909, see 25 July 2007).
There's a brief caesura, then comes "Le mariage de la poupée Berthe" ("The Wedding of Bertha the Doll") [T-5], which is a winsome melodic outpouring spiked with bell-like passages [00:01]. After another short break Ravelian passages segue into a delightful "alphabetic" dance sequence (see the synopsis) titled "La Ronde des lettres boileuses" ("The Round of Shaky Letters") [T-6]. With more intimations of Rimsky-Korsakov, when you see it danced this scene must be something else again!
A brass flourish with drum roll [01:37] followed by a reference to OU [01:51] preface an OU-based dramatic transition into the next "La promenade à travers le tableau" ("The Stroll Through the Painting") [T-7]. This is a hoary nostalgic scene in which Hjalmar's grandmother sings farewell to him (see the album notes for English and French texts).
Another momentary pause follows, and then a bubbling number that introduces the brilliantly scored finale "Parapluie chinois" ("Chinese Umbrella") [T-8]. Based on an Eastern-tinged theme [00:08] it’s one of the ballet's most ingratiating melodies, and undergoes several rhythmic transformations. These conclude the work with all the colorful grandeur of those big moments in Pierne's (1863-1937) ballet Cydalise et le chèvre-pied (Cydalise and the Goat-foot) of the same year (1923).
The program closes with Introit, récit et congé (Prelude, Lento and Finale, 1948) written for the great French cellist André Navarra (1911-1988). A suite in three connected sections [T-9], it's a virtuoso tour de force that begins with flashes of orchestral lightning [00:00] and burrowing cello passages [00:07]. The soloist then introduces a somber rhapsodic idea (SR) [00:29] that will dominate the work.
The opening measures are repeated and succeeded by a chromatically searching elaboration of SR [02:26], which is presumably the récit section. Whistling tutti outbursts and exciting virtuosic cello passages announce the concluding congé [06:28]. A cadenza-like episode [10:39-12:24] with a romantically rhapsodized recap of SR [11:21] follows, and then an explosive Ravelian coda [12:25] ends the piece joyously.
The Lorraine National Orchestra under their director Jacques Mercier made a big impression on us a few years back (see 11 July 2007), and if anything they sound even more fired up on this release! That's particularly true in the ballet, where mezzo-soprano Aline Martin also gets high marks for a touching account of the farewell Hjalmar's grandmother sings him [T-7].
As for the suite, Henri Demarquette, who's worked with such greats as Pierre Fournier (1906-1986), Paul Tortelier (1914-1990) and Janos Starker (1924-2013), gives an impassioned performance. It puts him right up there with today’s finest cellists.
Made at the Arsenal Concert Hall in Metz, France, the recordings project a vast deep soundstage in reverberant surroundings. But careful microphone placement and ideal level settings insure perfect highlighting of the many instrumental solos as well as a clearly focused overall sonic image.
The instrumental timbre is very pleasing with shimmering highs, a musical midrange and impressive bass. There are a couple of minor thumps probably resulting from the performers being on a “tympanic” platform, but other than that the disc is definitely demonstration grade.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140402)
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Suter, H.: Cpte Stg Qts (1, 2 & 3 "Amselrufe"; BeethQt [Mus Suiss]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
One of the best romantic chamber music discs to roll down CD lane in a long time, Swiss composer Hermann Suter (1870-1926) makes an impressive CLOFO debut with this new release from Musiques Suisses devoted to all three of his string quartets. Written about a decade apart during his all too brief lifetime, they are revealing cross sections of his stylistic development. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Suter studied in Leipzig with Carl Reinicke (1824-1910, see 14 May 2007), and Hans Huber (1852-1921, see 22 March 2012) at the conservatory in Basel, where he'd become director (1918-1921) and live out his remaining years. In that regard he was best known as an educator and conductor, but was also a composer whose limited output makes up in quality for what it lacks in quantity.
The first string quartet of 1901 (his opus 1) is dedicated to Huber (see 15 March 2008). In the usual four movements there are German influences echoing his Leipzig years. However, there's a gentleness that's a Suter trademark.
The opening allegro [T-1] is reminiscent of Brahms (1833-1897) and headed towards Reger (1873-1916, see 30 March 2008). It begins audaciously with a punchy motif [00:00] followed by lyrical countersubject [00:10]. These are elaborated and bridge into an emotional development that expires peacefully.
The miniscule moderato [T-2] has a pleading motif that recurs insistently, and then with a final outcry goes directly into the more extended larghetto [T-3]. This is a heartfelt lied spiked with a strutting fugato [03:26-05:14] that precludes the movement's becoming overly romantic, and anticipates the mood of the final allegro [T-4]. A study in contrasts it begins with a rhythmically twitchy idea (RT) [00:02] followed by a relaxed, two-part folkish tune [00:26]. They jostle each other in a harmonically searching development, and then this speldid quartet ends suddenly with frenetic hints of RT.
The year 1910 saw the the composer complete his second effort in the genre. Apparently inspired by Ludwig von Beethoven's (1770-1827) next to last quartet (No. 15, Op. 131; 1825), and even in the same key of c-sharp minor, it's the most progressive one here with a harmonic adventurousness approaching Reger at his most chromatically peripatetic.
Instead of the usual four movements Suter opts for two, each of which is bipartite. The first [T-5] begins with deeply felt contemplative reverie [00:01] in which cellular motifs coalesce into a comely sighing melody (CS) [02:22]. The movement then concludes in a chromatic CS-based episode [03:50] that becomes briefly agitated [05:15], transitioning into an anxious fugato [08:27]. This fades, ending the movement sternly but with a slight ray of hope.
The concluding one [T-6] is a theme and variations that begins with a rocking childlike main subject (MS) [00:00]. This undergoes nine transformations, the first two of which are playful [01:39] and waltzlike [02:31]. The next four, which together might be considered a central development, are sequentially anxious [03:38], assertive [04:39], mournful [06:17] and tragic [07:06].
However, the mood turns more positive with the peacefully resigned seventh [07:06], which is the emotional heart of the movement. Then we get a catchy restless variant [08:39] followed by the concluding ninth that's a more rhythmically pronounced version of MS [09:24], and ends the quartet sotto voce.
Written in 1918 and having the subtitle "Amselrufe" ("Songs of the Blackbird"), the third quartet is one of those sublime works that composers often turn out towards the end of their lives. The first of its three movements is an allegro [T-7] that begins with chirpy hints of a blackbird call (BC) that we soon hear [00:34]. Suter expands it into a couple of charming ideas somewhat anticipating Rossini's (1879-1936) Gli uccelli (The Birds, 1927).
A pensive passage bridges into a spirited development of these [04:57] in which there are more BCs [06:06]. A delightful recap of previous material follows [06:38] with hints of BCs [09:08], and the movement leads directly into the next <>allegretto marked "Reigen" ("Round Dance") [T-8].
This is an exceptional romantic rhapsody based on a killer nostalgic folklike melody (NF) [00:01] Suter wrote in 1910 for a song entitled "Morgenlied" by Swiss poet Conrad Ferdinand Meyer (1825-1898). The sublime opening and closing bookend a spooky section [04:31-06:50] that contrasts with NF making it all the more endearing. Many will find this movement alone justifies their having gotten the disc!
The finale [T-9] gets off to a subdued introspective start recalling similar moments in Beethoven's penultimate quartet (No. 15, Op. 132; 1825). But some BCs [02:53] initiate a virtuosic presto with BC and NF-derived themes. Towards the end we get more BCs [12:54] followed by a coda recalling the opening measures of this magnificent work. An exceptional discovery, it's guaranteed a slot on this year's list of "Best Finds."
The Basel-based Beethoven Quartet, which was founded in Ludwig's home town of Bonn during 2006, gives us devoted readings of these works. They obviously love this music and play it with a reverence and attention to detail making a strong case for these Suter delicacies. In passing, there does seem to be an intonational queasy moment in the final movement of the last quartet [T-9, 02:00].
Made last year in a Basel studio the recordings project a wide soundstage in a surprisingly reverberant space. Consequently there's a somewhat cavernous quality to the sound, which will probably appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The instrumental timbre favors the highs, and those having equalization and/or tone controls may want to shade things towards the bass end.
Incidentally pointy-eared listeners keying directly to the allegretto in the third quartet [T-8] will notice an edit boo-boo. To wit, it begins with the last vestiges of the final violin note in the preceding movement.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140401)
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