CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
23 JUNE 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.
Braunfels: Pno Conc, Scot Phant (va & orch), Ariels Gesang; Soloists/Wildner/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954, see 27 February 2008) makes a welcome return to these pages on this striking Dutton release featuring three of his symphonic works. All are world premiere recordings.
The program begins with his one and only piano concerto of 1910-11, which was a vehicle for himself as he was also a highly acclaimed pianist. An impressive three-movement late romantic work, it begins with an expansive allegro [T-1] having a couple of attractive themes and considerable keyboard fireworks. Then we get a moving adagio [T-2] that's an extended lied which is more affecting with each hearing.
But not one for a romantic wallow, Walter ends the work cheerfully with another allegro [T-3] starting with a jolly tune based on the melody for the old song most know as "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." There are remembrances of past themes, and the concerto concludes triumphantly.
Inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, Braunfels' Ariels Gesang (Ariel's Song, 1910) [T-4] is a delicate melodic interlude bringing to mind lighter moments in Berlioz' (1803-1869) works that honor “The Bard.” It's a fitting transition to the darker closing Schottische Phantasie for Viola and Orchestra (1932-3).
Riddled with folk material, and in five connected movements, the first two [T-5 and 6] invoke images of cool craggy Scottish hills. The third and fourth [T-7 and 8] feature atmospheric country tunes, and there’s a cadenza for the viola in the latter.
The final Lebhaft (Lively) [T-9] is an inventive theme with variations, which many may find the work's high point. The melody heard at the beginning of the fantasy is the main subject (MS). It's the basis for a lively virtuosic finish with a big tune reappearance of MS, ending this like a Highland fling.
Pianist Victor Sangiorgio and violist Sarah-Jane Bradley play magnificently. They receive outstanding support from conductor Johannes Wildner and the BBC Concert Orchestra, who also give a heartfelt reading of Ariels Gesang.
The sound is good but in the spacious Colosseum Town Hall, Watford, England, a bit cavernous. The soloists could have been better highlighted .
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140623)
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David, F.C.: Lalla Roukh (cpte opera); Soloists/Brown/OpLafay C&O [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
As a teaser we've had some memorable string quartets by French composer Félicien-César David (1810-1876), who was one of the first French romantic orientalists (see 25 April 2012). Now the adventurous Naxos folks give us the world premiere recording of his Eastern-influenced, opéra-comique Lalla Roukh (1862).
In two acts, the libretto (to see click here) is by Michel Carré (1821-1872) and Hippolyte Lucas (1807-1878) based on Thomas Moore's (1779-1852) oriental romance of the same name (1817). The story is about Princess Lalla Roukh, daughter of the Moghul Emperor, and her trip from Delhi to Bucharia (now Bukhara, Uzbekistan) for her impending marriage to its King (see the album synopsis).
An atmospheric overture [D-1, T-1] with hints of tunes to come prefaces the first scene, which is a thickly wooded valley in Kashmir with a lake and the Himalayas pictured behind it. A charming rustic ensemble number follows [D-1, T-2] introducing Noureddin, who would seem to be a wandering minstrel, and sings the French equivalent of a patter song along with the chorus.
The remainder of the act is highlighted by a beautiful aria for Lalla [D-1, T-3] worthy of Bizet (1838-1875), and a catchy ditty for the King's chamberlain Baskir [D-1, T-4], who's been charged with getting her safely to Bucharia. There are also two exotic fetching choral-ballet numbers [D-1, T-6 and T-7], the former anticipating Delibes' (1836-1891) Lakmé (1883), and the other recalling Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42).
Then we get a charming romance for Noureddin [D-1, T-9], after which he's joined by Lalla for a couple of splendid duets in which they become enamored of each other [D-1, T-11 and 12]. The act ends in a delicate ensemble number for Lalla and her attendants [D-1, T-13] as night falls.
The final act takes place at the King of Bukhara's summer palace, and begins with a tranquil entr'acte [D-2, T-1]. It's followed by an informative opening air for Lalla [D-2, T-2] and a striking duet with her lady-in-waiting Mirza [D-1, T-3], where we learn the Princess is now in love with Noureddin. What's more she plans to break her engagement to the King, return to Delhi, and wed her newly found inamorato.
Then we get a terrific ensemble waltz [D-2, T-4], during which Lalla is presented with gifts from the King. But she refuses them, telling Baskir to inform his highness she won't marry him.
This is cause for all sorts of machinations on the chamberlain's part (see the album synopsis) that begin with his intoning another patter song [D1, T-5] along the lines of that in Act I. It's followed by a lovely ensemble barcarole featuring Noureddin [D-2, T-6] that makes one wonder if Offenbach (1819-1880) knew it.
A waggish duet of intrigue between Noureddin and Baskir [D-2, T-7] brings Bizet again to mind. Then we get a romance for Noureddin [D-2, T-8], after which Baskir commands some attendant slaves to seize and take him away. At this point things are looking pretty grim for Lalla, but not to worry!
The King accompanied by his procession then enters [D-2, T-10], and we soon discover his highness is none other than Noureddin! He'd disguised himself as a minstrel to see whether Lalla would love him just as a person rather than for his power and riches. The opera then has a "happily ever after" ending with the lovers united, Baskir forgiven for his intrigues, and the monarch's subjects singing his praises.
Sopranos Marianne Fiset (Lalla Roukh) and Nathalie Paulin (Mirza), along with tenor Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (Noureddin and the King) give excellent accounts of their roles. The same can be said of bass-baritone Bernard Deletré (Baskir), providing you find his occasional overdone comic vibrato amusing.
Based in Washington, DC, the Opera Lafayette Chorus and Orchestra under their artistic director Ryan Brown provide the vocalists with standout support. All together they give us a sensitive committed performance of an operatic rarity whose return to the stage was long overdue.
Made at the University of Maryland, Dekelboum Concert Hall the recording projects a convincing soundstage in a warm reverberant acoustic. The orchestral timbre is very natural, but the voices have somewhat of an edge. The balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra is generally good. However, there are some occasional low-level thumps possibly associated with the soloists shifting position on what must have been a timpanic platform.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140622)
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David, J.N.: Sym in a (1) & Sym 6; Wildner/Vien RSO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
These symphonies by Austrian-born and trained Johann Nepomuk David (1895-1977) bear an astonishing stylistic resemblance to the music of Paul Hindemith (1895-1963), who recommended David as his successor at the Berlin University of the Arts when he left Germany in 1938. But being contemporaries who were even born the same year, it would be hard to say who might have influenced whom.
Both works, like many of Hindemith's are pragmatic, rigorously structured, thematically unified creations with great intellectual appeal. They show a penchant for counterpoint like that found in J.S. Bach (1685-1750), along with the influences of Bruckner (1824-1896), Brahms (1833-1897), Mahler (1860-1911) and Reger (1873-1916).
The term "Gebrauchsmusik" ("Utility Music") frequently used in regard to Hindemith certainly applies to David. But don't get the idea he's just a Hindemith clone! On the contrary the two symphonies here have something new to say, and will pique a great deal of interest in his other six numbered ones.
There are detailed analyses of both in the album notes, so we'll only cover their high points, beginning with the Symphony in A minor of 1936-7. This has been designated as his first, and is in four movements.
The initial allegro [T-1] opens with a repeated pizzicato four-note motif for the double basses (PF) followed by the woodwinds playing a droll chortling riff (DC). The latter is briefly explored, and becomes the motivic stem cell for the entire symphony in accord with David's penchant for thematic unity.
A fugato-introduced reserved chorale (RC) comes next, and all of the foregoing ideas are subjected to a masterful contrapuntally oriented development at times bringing Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony (1934) to mind. A vivacious recap ends the movement perfunctorily with reminders of DC.
Structurally the andante [T-2] could be described as a slow rondo with a plodding version of DC (PV) as its recurring theme. PV is stated at the outset and gives way to a searching variant of itself. It then reappears, becoming the subject of a chromatically peripatetic development. This is succeeded by a final return of PV to close the movement somberly.
An allegro that's in essence a scherzo is next [T-3]. Again DC comes into play as the basis for fleeting outer sections that bracket a subdued, FR-derived inner one.
Then the symphony ends in another allegro, which is a true rondo [T-4] that juggles three motifs related to PF, DC and RC. This serves to unify the whole work, and smacks of Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber of six years later (1943). It's highlighted by a fugue, and then a final coda that's a consummate amalgam of past ideas, bringing the symphony to a towering conclusion.
David, like Rued Langgaard (1893-1952, see 12 March 2014) was constantly tinkering with his creations, and the companion piece here, his sixth symphony, is a good example. Originally dating from 1952-4, in 1966 the composer made some significant revisions that included a new final movement, giving us the version heard on this CD. There are spots where Hindemith's Konzertmusik for Brass and Strings (1930) as well as Pittsburg Symphony (1958) may come to mind.
The first allegro [T-5] is built on what the composer aptly described as a festive, exhilarating idea (FE), which will unify the symphony. In modified sonata form, there's a fugal development and blazing recapitulation that ends the movement flamboyantly.
An “A-B-A” adagio [T-6] follows, beginning with a subdued variant of FE (SV). This is the subject for the sad aria-like outer sections that bookend a pensive developmental episode. Then we get a strange movement entitled "Wiener Walzer" ("Vienna Waltz") [T-7] whose reserved impressionistic opening has sinister snippets of snare drum.
An SV-related waltz tune soon surfaces, and undergoes a bizarre variational development. This is reinforced with some colorful brass and percussion, and builds to an explosive outburst. After a brief pause the movement concludes with sad hints of its opening.
The final allegro [T-8] is a double fugue whose subject matter draws on FE and other previous motifs. The powerful breathtaking first part gives way to a haunting laid-back section. Then the opening frenzy resumes growing even more hyper, and ending the symphony in thrilling fashion. Hindemith would have loved it!
Austrian-born conductor Johannes Wildner is once again in the spotlight (see the Braunfels recommendation above). At one time a member of the Vienna Philharmonic and State Opera Orchestras he's steeped in his country's musical tradition.
With a background like that one couldn't ask for a better interpreter of these remarkable scores by a countryman whose symphonies have up until now been a well-kept secret. He leads the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra in dazzling yet tight-knit, sensitive performances of these works, and the playing is first-rate.
Made at Austrian Radio and Television's large studio in Vienna, the recordings are good, bordering on demonstration quality, and in warm surroundings. They present a somewhat recessed soundstage that had it been wider and more to the fore would have better delineated David's intricately structured scores. The instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, a musical midrange and clean lows.
In closing, this disc will undoubtedly be a CLOFO "Best Find" of 2014. Hopefully CPO will give us the remaining David symphonies in the not too distant future!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140621)
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Meyerbeer: Opera Ovs (6), Entrs (7) & Orch Excs (4); Ang/NZ SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Meyerbeer: Opera Bal Excs (16), Entrs (1); Nesterowicz/Bar SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Of German-Jewish descent, Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864) studied in Germany as well as Italy. He'd then go on to become a resounding success in Paris, where he'd establish himself as one of the nineteenth century's most significant and frequently performed opera composers.
With these two releases Naxos gives us cream of the crop compendiums of orchestral excerpts from his better known stage works. As programmed here these releases currently have no competition, and "opera without words" enthusiasts will find them indispensable!
The CD above and to the left has seventeen morsels from six of his finest Paris operas, beginning with the overture to Robert le diable (1831) [D-1, T-1]. It's a baleful precursor of what's to come in this the first of Giacomo's grand operas. Set in Sicily, it's about the struggle between good and evil for the soul of Robert, Duke of Normandy (see the informative album notes).
Moving on to Meyerbeer's first opéra-comique, we get the overture to L'étoile du nord (The North Star, 1854) [D-1, T-2], which has a story line about Peter the Great (1672-1725). Its spirited martial opening and closing surround a lovely melodic centerpiece representing Polaris.
Five excerpts from the composer's most successful stage work, Les Huguenots (1836), are next. Based on the Protestant Reformation, its compelling overture [D-1, T-3] quotes Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) timeless chorale Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress is our God, 1527-9), and is the harbinger of tragic events to follow.
It's offset by a rousing orchestral version of the festive drinking-song in Act 1 [D-1, T-4], followed by the entr’actes to Acts 2 and 5 [D-1, T-5 and 6]. The former is pastoral with a winsome flute solo, while the other is unsettling. It reflects the opera's darker side, and is succeeded by a brief ballet excerpt from Act 5 [D-1, T-7] that's a proud polonaise linked to a high-stepping galop.
The next five selections are taken from Meyerbeer's last opera, L'africaine (1865). A tale about the renowned Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama's (c. 1460s-1524) voyage around Africa to India, the overture [D-1, T-8] is replete with searching wind passages, and a final hint of stormy seas.
It's succeeded by the Acts 2, 3 and 5 entr’actes. The first of these [D-2, T-9] is subdued with a haunting horn solo, while wistful woodwinds in the next [D-2, T-10] create a sense of yearning. The last [D-2, T-11] leaves one with a feeling of abandonment, and gives way to a tragic orchestral episode [D-2, T-12] that accompanies the main female protagonist's self-immolation.
Dinorah, ou le pardon de Ploërmel (Dinorah, or The Pardon of Ploërmel, 1859) was Giacomo's second opera-comique, which is a delightful pastoral frolic set in Brittany. Many will find the ebullient overture [D-1, T-13], which is in essence a tone poem, the choice selection here. Colorful scoring that also calls for an organ, mimics folksy peasant dances as well as droning cornemuses and hurdy-gurdies. The Act 2 and 3 entr’actes are much in the same spirit, the earlier being a rustic waltz [D-2, T-14], and the other a jolly hunting diorama [D-2, T-15].
Bringing the disc to a close we get a couple of goodies from another Meyerbeer masterpiece, Le prophète (1849), which like Les Huguenots involves the Reformation (see above). The overture [D-1, T-16] has a martial beginning anticipating the violent events soon to follow.
There's also a reference to a lofty regal theme (LR) stated by the trumpets [03:59] that's associated with the opera's main character, John of Leiden (c. 1509-1536; see the album notes). This leads to a tense development, after which the music dies away only to return concluding with an angst-ridden coda that ends the overture in a blaze of Anabaptist glory.
The final number is the "Coronation March" from the fourth act [D-1, T-17], and one of the composer's best known pieces. It begins with commanding rhythmic flourishes followed by repeated trumpet calls, a drum roll, and the reappearance of LR [00:35]. All is repeated, and the march ends in a swaggering refulgent coda, bringing this Meyerbeer symphonic sampler to a magnificent close.
One of today's most up-and-coming conductors, Singaporean Darrell Ang (b. 1979) elicits superb performances of these selections from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. Made at the Michael Fowler Center, Wellington, the recordings project a wide soundstage in a resonant acoustic that should appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The instrumental timbre is musical with a touch of graininess in massed upper string passages.
The other disc pictured to the right gives us ballet music from five of the operas mentioned above. It starts with Les Huguenots (1836), from which we get "Danse bohémienne" [D-2, T-1] done by some gypsies in the third act (see the informative album notes). A rhythmically arresting skittish number, some may find it anticipates Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) "Dance of the Tumblers" from The Snowmaiden (1880-95).
A couple of selections from Robert le diable (1831) follow. The first is a lyrical Sicilian-tinged "Pas de cinq" ("Dance for Five") from Act 2 [D-2, T-2], which augurs Adolphe Adam's (1803-1856) Giselle (1841). Then there's the Act 3 foreboding, occult "Ballet des nonnes" ("Ballet of the Nuns").
In six parts, the initial "Les feux follets et procession des nonnes" ("Will-o'-the-wisps and Procession of the Nuns") [D-2, T-3] and "Bacchanale" [D-2, T-4] are necromantic graveyard numbers portending Verdi's (1813-1901) ballet music (1843-87). Three diverting "Airs de ballet" follow depicting aspects of human behavior.
The first "L'ivresse" ("Drunkenness") [D-2, T-5] is a tipsy trifle with "Papageno" woodwind decorations, and "Le jeu" ("Gambling") [D-2, T-6] a fickle Lady Luck waltz. "L'amour" ("Love") [D-2, T-7] takes the form of an amorous aria for cello and flute. Then the ballet concludes diabolically [D-2, T-8] with the return of the main idea from "Bacchanale" in satanic array.
Some of Meyerbeer's most familiar music is next in "Suite dansante" [D-2, T-9 through 12] from L'étoile du nord (1854), and "Ballet des patineurs" ("Skaters' Ballet") [D-2, T-13 through 16] in Act 3 of Le prophète (1849). These ever popular pieces were the source material for that celebrated 1937 ballet Les Patineurs arranged by Constant Lambert (1905-1951). Incidentally the dancers for the 1849 Paris premiere of Le prophète were on roller skates!
The disc closes with "Marche Indienne" ("Indian March") [D-2, T-17] from the fourth act of L'africaine (1865). After a bustling, snare-drum-enhanced opening we get an attractive regal theme (AR) played by the trumpet, and a couple of lighter contrasting ideas. These are followed by a reprise of AR, and then the snare returns to introduce an animated finale that ends the march triumphantly.
Polish conductor Michal Nesterowicz gets magnificent playing from the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, which also bills itself as the National Orchestra of Catalonia. His fine-tuned interpretation of "Ballet des patineurs" yields one of the most dignified performances of it on disc.
Made in the wood-lined, warm reverberant Pau (Pablo) Casals Hall in Barcelona, the recordings are superb. They project a wide, yawning soundstage that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The instrumental timbre is characterized by shimmering highs, a lifelike midrange, and clean bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140620, Y140619)
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Petrassi: Prel, Aria e Finale (vc, pno); Cilèa: Vc Son; Fuga, S.: Vc Son 1; Macrì/G.Fuga [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Three lesser known Italian composers are represented on this new Naxos release by attractive works for cello and piano dating from the 1880s and 1930s. CROCKS Newsletter readers will be familiar with Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003, see 18 February 2013), while Francesco Cilèa (1866-1950) and Sandro Fuga (1906-1994) make their CLOFO debuts. These are the only recordings currently available on disc of the Petrassi and Fuga selections.
The concert begins with Petrassi's Preludio, Aria e Finale of 1933, which unlike César Franck's (1822-1890) eponymous piano piece (1886-7) is a neo-classical creation. The opening "Preludio" [T-1] is a rigorous rhythmic bravura workout for the cello. It seems to end in a forceful final cadence, but after a brief pause we get a demanding cello cadenza that's like an afterthought.
This transitions into "Aria" [T-2], which is a brooding introspective piece, whose mood is offset by a rousing "Finale" [T-3]. The latter has a couple of arresting angular themes, a curt chugging cadenza, and ends the piece with virtuosic passages for both instruments.
Cilèa's three-movement sonata of 1888 is a romantic gem with some melodies worthy of Massenet (1842-1912), whom the composer held in high regard. It opens with an abbreviated sonata form allegro [T-4] having a couple of attractive ideas.
The "Alla romanza" ("Romantically") [T-5] is a yearning cavatina with echoes of the dumka movement in Dvorák's (1841-1904) second piano quintet (1887). Then for dessert we get a final allegro [T-7] that’s a virtuosic cannolo with a combination Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Chabrier (1841-1894, see 31 July 2013) filling.
A prolific chamber music composer, Sandro Fuga wrote three cello sonatas, the first of which from 1936 closes out this disc. It’s the most intriguing piece here, and begins "Calmo serena" ("Calm and Serene") [T-7] with the piano playing a motif that brings the Dies Irae (DI) to mind. The cello then introduces a couple of memorable ideas that are respectively haunting and possessed. An elaboration and recap of these follows with memories of DI to end the movement peacefully.
The next 'Grave e sostenuto" ("Grave and Sustained") [T-8] is as advertised, and followed by "Vivace, rapsodico, con spirito" ("Lively, Rhapsodic, with Spirit") [T-9] that couldn't be more different. Beginning with a rustic folkish theme, it's a sonata rondo [T-9] with intimations of Ravel's (1875-1937) Iberian efforts, and ends the sonata on a light note.
Cellist Massimo Macri and pianist Giacomo Fuga -- any relation to Sandro? -- give definitive readings of all three works, burying what little competition there is for the Cilèa. Recorded in Turin Italy, the instruments are ideally positioned and balanced across a lifelike soundstage in an accommodating venue. Audiophiles will not be disappointed!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140618)
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