CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
12 AUGUST 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.
Andreae: Sym in F (1), Ob Conc, Li-Tai-Pe (8 songs w orch); Anderson/Hulett/Andreae/Bourn SO [Guild]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The music of Swiss-born Volkmar Andreae (1879-1962) has been one of the major late romantic discoveries to appear in these pages. Guild continues their welcome revival of it (see 31 July 2013) with this recent release featuring three works with orchestra, two of which mark the beginning and end of his creative period. All are world premiere recordings of significant compositions long overdue for revival.
A couple of years ago Guild gave us the second of his two symphonies (1919, see 13 July 2012), and now they backtrack with this invaluable recording of his first dating from 1898-1900. A student piece, it was never numbered, and consequently neither was his later effort.
Scored for an orchestra about the same size as those in the Brahms (1833-1897) symphonies (1855-85), the work has four movements. The initial allegro [T-1] opens with an immediately captivating pastoral melody (CP) [00:01]. This is explored and bridges into a Brahmsian waltzlike idea (BW) [01:34] that may bring to mind the last movement of his first symphony (1855-76).
A dramatic development follows [02:35], and then a recap [06:21] where at a couple of points the violins play a CP-derived motif [09:33 and 09:42] sounding remarkably like the oboe-introduced theme in the second movement of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) fifth symphony (1888). The Andreae then ends tranquilly with reminders of BW and CP.
Volkmar loved Bruckner (1824-1896), and in his later capacity as a conductor championed his symphonies (1863-1896). His reverence for the great Austrian master is evident in the next adagio [T-2] that's a moving brass-reinforced, timpani-laced lament with sublime transfigured moments.
Instead of a scherzo we get a tiny intermezzo [T-3], which alternates a delicate swaying waltz idea with a flighty fickle tune. It provides a brief respite before the impressive finale [T-4] that begins with a solemn CP-related theme. This takes on heroic proportions (CH) [01:47], and fades into a swelling triumphant melody (ST) [02:49].
The two ideas then undergo a development that has a motif similar to the opening of Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) Hebrides (aka Fingal's Cave) Overture (1830-2; see 21 December 2009) [03:31]. Towards the end there's a big tune reprise of ST [07:22], and the symphony concludes peacefully with final hints of CH in the winds.
In 1907 German poet Hans Bethge (1876-1946) published Die Chinesische Flöte (The Chinese Flute), which was a collection of Tang dynasty (618-907) poems he'd translated. It made a tremendous impression on Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), who subsequently used six of them for his late masterpiece, Das Lied von der Erde (1908-9).
Then in 1915-6 German writer Alfred Henschke (1890-1928; pen name Klabund) produced a book of what he called freely adapted translations drawn from Far Eastern literature that included some of Bethge's source material. The famous German-Swiss writer Herman Hesse (1877-1962) brought this to Andreae's attention, ultimately inspiring him to write Li-Tai-Pe (1930-1), as the composer preferred to call Chinese poet Li Bai (c. 699-762).
It's a cycle of eight song settings for tenor and orchestra with German texts from the Henschke. Two are based on poems also in Das Lied..., beginning with the opening "Das Lied vom Kommer" ("The Song of Sorrow") [T-5], which is known there as "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" ("Drinking Song of Earth's Sorrows"). Much shorter and with outer sections set to a strumming guitar-like accompaniment, it's a bit more bumptious than the Mahler.
Resembling a quatrain, "Wanderer erwacht in der Herberge" ("Wanderer Awakens in the Hostel") [T-6] is a brooding contemplation that concludes with haunting woodwind solos and a couple of ominous underlying tam-tam strokes. Then the mood lightens in "Der Fischer im Frühling" ("The Fisherman in Spring") [T-7], which evokes balmy vernal images. It brings to mind the meandering outer sections of French-Swiss composer Arthur Honegger's (1892-1955) Pastorale d'été (1920).
"Am Ufer des Yo-Yeh" ("On the Banks of the Yo-Yeh") [T-8] is also based on a poem that appears in Das Lied..., where it's known as "Von der Schönheit" ("Of Beauty"). Lasting less than a third as long as the Mahler, which is for mezzo-soprano or contralto, there's a delightful capriciousness common to both characterizing the carefree days of youth.
Next we get "S-schy" [T-9], which in the context of this short verse seems to be the name of a Chinese courtesan. She does a slow bump-and-grind to a lascivious accompaniment recalling the opening of Dance of the Seven Veils in Richard Strauss's (1864-1949) opera Salome (1903-5). It couldn't be more different from the following "Der Tanz auf der Wolke" ("The Dance on the Cloud") [T-10] that's a fleeting argental number in praise of the flute.
"Abschied" ("Farewell") [T-11] and "Der Silberreiher" ("The Great White Egret") [T-12] close the cycle. The former, not from the same poem as the Mahler, is initially angst-ridden with the poet ruing his banality. It ends with a sorrowful symphonic passage that transitions directly into the last song, which is haiku-like. Here some volitant imagery and sporadic orchestral heartbeats flatline ending the cycle with intimations of eternity.
One of Andreae's last works, the Concertino for Oboe and Orchestra of 1941, completes this release. In three movements the first [T-13] is a ternary slow-fast-slow offering that begins with an overcast tutti succeeded by the soloist intoning a pallid plaintive melody (PP) [00:03]. The skies gradually clear as the oboe introduces a more animated sanguine idea (AS) [01:43]. This transitions into an AS-derived, glowing theme (AG) [02:53] that's elaborated.
Then after a brief pause we get the next section [05:10], which is a perky episode where the soloist plays a couple of saucy tunes. It’s followed by a close variant of the opening part [06:56] with reminders of PP, AS and AG.
The work concludes with two short movements, the first being a "Serenade" [T-14] with a charming ditty of nursery song simplicity. The concerto then closes with a dynamic, brilliantly scored rondo [T-15] where the soloist gets to show off his technical prowess.
Thematically as well as structurally sophisticated, this music requires careful phrasing and attention to dynamics. Conductor Marc Andreae, who's the composer's grandson, succeeds on both counts, eliciting outstanding performances from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Tenor Benjamin Hulett and oboist John Anderson, who both hail from Britain, get a standing ovation for their superb interpretations of the song cycle and concertino.
Like Guild's previous Andreae release (see 31 July 2013) these recordings were made in the Lighthouse Concert Hall of the Poole Arts Center, Dorset, England. They project a wide, deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic that should appeal to those liking wetter sonics. The balance between each of the soloists and orchestra is ideal
One last note, Mr. Hulett's voice is inherently suited to these songs, but there's an upper edge to it that seems electroacoustic-related. On the other hand, Mr. Anderson's oboe is beautifully captured. The overall orchestral timbre is good, although there's an occasional digital edge to massed ff violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140812)
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Bantock: Vn Son 3; Coke: Vn Son 1; Scott, C.: Va Son; Marshall-Luck/Rickard [EM]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
EM Records continues their invaluable investigation of lesser known late romantic violin and viola sonatas by English composers. This time around they give us one by Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946), plus the only currently available recordings on disc of others from Roger Sacheverell Coke (1912-1972) and Cyril Scott (1879-1970, see 20 June 2013). Those familiar with their previous releases (see 7 October 2011, and EM Records 3, 6, 7 & 11) may find this the most interesting yet.
The concert opens with the last of Bantock's three sonatas for violin and piano of 1940. In three movements it begins with a captivating tuneful sonata form allegro [T-1]. The notes "G" and "B" (Bantock's initials) are highlighted (see the detailed album notes), and will recur as monogrammaic reminders of him at various points throughout the work.
The harmonic structure gets more exotic in the next lento [T-2], which Bantock subtitled "The Dryad" presumably after one of those female tree spirits in Greek mythology. He never offered an explanation for this, but the pensive diffident character of the music seems much in character with the reputed shyness of these woodland deities.
The final allegro [T-3] is for the most part a tripping frolic with antsy melodic lines where "G" and "B" are again emphasized. The sonata then ends mysteriously with the violin playing a sustained note that fades unresolved into oblivion.
Much of Roger Sacheverell Coke's music has unfortunately been lost, but we're lucky to have here the first of his two violin sonatas. Dating from 1940-2 and in the late romantic tradition -- he loved Rachmaninov (1873-1943) -- many will find it the highlight of this CD. Written at the height of The Blitz, there's an ever present gloom ostensibly ascribable to the horrors of World War II (1939-45) then being visited on England.
The first of its four movements [T-7] gets off to an ominous start with piano triplets succeeded by a fateful minor key motif (FM) played by the violin [00:10]. FM will dominate the movement beginning with the chromatically searching development that follows. This leads to an FT-related, bumptious jiglike countersubject [02:25] followed by an FT-based pensive cadenza and aria for the violin.
After that the music becomes chromatically misty with some virtuoso violin histrionics. Then segments of FM appear increasingly in the major to end the movement with a ray of hope.
The andante [T-8] begins with the piano playing a sinuous melody that's picked up by the violin, and subjected to a variety of dark harmonic mutations. A lachrymose offering, this movement ends mysteriously with the violin sounding a whispery high harmonic note (WH).
A scherzo is next [T-9] having outer sections based on a naive nursery-tune-like theme. These surround a meditative developmental episode, after which the movement ends with another WH.
The fourth and last "Finale, quasi una fantasia" ("Finale in the Manner of a Fantasy") [T-10] is one of the bleaker moments in romantic sonata literature. Beginning with a torturous extended theme for the violin, the piano soon enters trying to alleviate the pain. But the violin resumes its aria of agony, disregarding the piano's consoling efforts, and the work ends on a sustained note of despair.
The disc is filled out with the only viola sonata of Bantock's good friend Cyril Scott. Originally written in 1939, it's the revised version of 1953 that's presented here. In three movements it’s a highly complex piece (see the album notes).
The first [T-4] is in ternary form with chromatically peripatetic outer sections. They surround a slower impressionistically tinged one in which the violin rhapsodizes to a supportive keyboard accompaniment. Then the mood changes with "Humoresque" [T-5], which is a captivating whimsicality where a philandering piano pursues a flirtatious fiddle.
The sonata ends enigmatically in a movement [T-6] that begins with searching piano passages followed by an austere meditative episode for the violin. The pace quickens as both instruments enter into a developmental discussion with Eastern overtones that at times sound Chinese [04:29 and 05:07]. Last minute virtuosic string flourishes and a couple of ff keyboard chords end the sonata emphatically.
Violinist-violist Rupert Marshall-Luck and pianist Matthew Rickard once again (see EM Records 6 & 11) give us technically accomplished, sensitive readings of these rare English sonatas. The Coke and Scott with their rubato melodic lines and intricate rhythmic schemes pose a considerable challenge, which both artists meet swimmingly.
Made in 2011 (Bantock) and 2013 at the Wyastone Estate Concert Hall near Monmouth, England, the recordings project a modest soundstage in an amenable acoustic. The strings are on the bright side of musical, and the piano pleasantly captured with a hint of digital upper grain in the Coke and Scott. The balance is good with the violin to the left and viola right of a generally centered piano.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140811)
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Enna: Vn Conc, Cleopatra Ov, Sym Fant; Rabus/Bäumer/HanNDR RP [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
On the basis of his surname, it would be hard to guess August Enna (1859-1939) is a Danish composer. In point of fact, his paternal grandfather was a soldier from Enna, Sicily, who moved to Denmark. August got his first musical training in Copenhagen around age seventeen, and would go on to work as a barroom pianist there. Then in 1881 he began conducting various Danish theater company orchestras in the Baltic area.
By that time he was also writing music, which occasionally has a hint of sunny Italy in line with his heritage. The year 1886 saw him complete the first of two symphonies that’s unfortunately now lost. But at the time it brought him to the attention of Niels Gade (1817-1890), who was then Denmark's leading musical figure. He consequently looked at several of Enna's scores, and wrote a laudatory letter that got him Denmark's most prestigious music prize. This allowed the young August to devote himself entirely to composition.
While much of his music is operatic (see 15 February 2008), he also left us some brilliantly scored symphonic works. Enterprising CPO continues their investigation of the latter (see 23 February 2011) with this release. Except for the concerto, these are the only currently available recordings on disc.
The CD begins with a concert version of the overture to his opera Cleopatra (1893, currently unavailable on disc) [T-1]. Interestingly enough the libretto by Einar Christiansen (1861-1939), who did the one for Carl Nielsen's (1865-1931) Saul and David (1898-1901), is based on the eponymous novel (1889) by H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) of She (1887) fame.
It opens with a waxing amatory theme (WA) bringing to mind the love affair between Anthony and Cleopatra (see 22 November 2010). This transitions via a melancholy diminuendo into an agitated episode [04:19] where Wagner's (1813-1883) Nibelungen seem to lurk beneath the surface. Then we get a heroic variant of WA [05:28] that's developed and followed by a big tune restatement of WA [07:15], ending the overture passionately.
The three movement violin concerto of 1897, commences with a moderato [T-2] whose Nordic temperament recalls similar works by Enna's teachers Johan Svendsen (1840-1911) and Peter Lange-Müller (1850-1926, see 29 September 2009). It's an attractive offering with a folksy delicate opening idea (FD) for the soloist [00:51] that will appear in several guises. Bravura passages that include a cadenza [05:58-06:37] give our violinist a chance to strut her stuff.
The composer shows his Italian roots in the andante [T-3], where after a brief tutti preface, the soloist plays the melody for "Vesti la giubba" from Leoncavallo's (1857-1919) I Pagliacci (1892) [00:40]. This tune is the basis for a bittersweet ballad that's the emotional core of the concerto.
Enna was a highly sensitive person with depressive tendencies, and in that regard the album notes speculate this movement may have been a musical self-portrait. Moreover like Pagliacci, his jovial outward appearance frequently masked inner anguish.
There's a pristine crispness about the final allegro scherzando [T-4] that finds the concerto back in Scandinavia. It gets off to a running start with a perky fiddle tune [00:20] followed by an FD-related idea [01:25]. The two are tossed about in rondo fashion, and the concerto ends with virtuosic flourishes for soloist and tutti.
The CD is filled out with Enna's last orchestral work entitled Symphonic Fantasy (1930-1). Originally in four movements, the composer discarded the second, giving us this moderato-dominated, three-part work.
The first section [T-5] could stand on its own as a tone poem based on two contrasting themes. The dark, wintry first (DW) [00:05] couldn't be more different from the bright, vernal second (BV) [01:19]. They're skillfully juxtaposed, and then the movement has a DW-tinged conclusion much in the same mood as its beginning.
August takes us for a stroll down melody lane with the next scherzoesque offering [T-6], which has distinctive "pizzicato-walking" outer sections. They surround a gorgeous lyrical central one [01:52-04:48] where the world of Puccini (1858-1924) is not far away.
The last movement [T-7] begins with a robust ursine idea followed by a powerful DW-related chorale-like melody (DC) [00:24] and reminiscences of BV [01:25]. After that a rollicking, folksy episode breaks out [02:22] with reverent references to DC. Then the fantasy concludes with transfigured memories of BV [05:35] which bring Richard Strauss (1864-1949) to mind.
Violinist Kathrin Rabus has a sublime tone, and delivers an immaculately sensitive performance of the concerto, which now takes pride of place in the current catalog. German conductor Hermann Bäumer and the Hannover NDR Radio Philharmonic provide magnificent support, making a strong case for it as well as the other two selections. Enna couldn't have better advocates!
Made about the same time and utilizing identical personnel as the Graener recordings we told you about last March, these are another coproduction of CPO and North German Radio (NDR). They were also done at NDR's large studio in Hannover, and again project a well-focused soundstage in a warm reverberant acoustic.
However, this time around the instrumental timbre is somewhat brighter in massed violin passages, although Ms. Rabus is beautifully captured and balanced against the orchestra. That along with a musical midrange and rock solid bass make for a recording that’s a frog's hair short of audiophile.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140810)
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Erkel, F.: Hunyadi László (cpte orig opera); Soloists/Héja/HonvM & BudaStu Cs/Buda PO [Brilliant]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
Composer, conductor and pianist Ferenc Erkel (1810-1893) has been called the father of Hungarian grand opera, and this recent recording of his Hunyadi László would seem to bear that out. First staged in 1844, by 1884 it had been performed 250 times, and undergone a number of revisions designed to accommodate the many famous singers drawn to it.
The production here is the world premiere recording of a modern critical edition based on original documents, and returns to the initial four-act version. For the most part written in 1842-3, it adheres to historical fact like his István király (King Stephen, 1874-84), and falls in line with such large-scale Paris operas of the time as Rossini's (1792-1868) Guillaume Tell (1829) and Meyerbeer's -(1791-1864) Les Huguenots (1836, see 23 June 2014).
The libretto by Béni Egressy (1814-1851) is based on the tragic life of László Hunyadi (Ladislaus Hunyadi, 1431-1457), whose father János (John Hunyadi, 1406-1456) became a national hero for his victories over the Ottomans, and younger brother Mátyás (Matthias Corvinus, 1443-1490), one of Hungary's greatest kings. It's unfortunately not included in the album notes, but there is a condensed plot synopsis. Those wishing to see the entire text can click here.
Although an afterthought added in 1845, the stirring overture is drawn from several of the opera's main themes [D-1, T-1], and a major early romantic discovery. It begins with a fateful trumpet motif (FT) [00:00] that oddly enough may bring to mind the title music from Nino Rota's (1911-1979) score for The Godfather (1972). This is expanded into a subtle ominous idea (SO) [01:03] followed by a folkish dance-like melody (FD) [03:42] auguring Dvorák (1841-1904).
An exhilarating timpani-accented episode [ET] follows [04:28] ending in a heroic brass theme (HB) [05:00] worthy of Suppé (1819-1895, see 25 February 2013). Then SO is turned into a czardas with a final drumroll succeeded by a perky Rossiniesqe tune (PR) [06:30].
Some stormy SO-related passages are next [07:15] that gradually abate into a recollection of FD [08:30]. After a brief pause the overture concludes with a thrilling recap of ET [09:22], some final dramatic reminders of OM [10:41] as well as PR [11:18], and a wild SO-based coda [11:59].
As the Act I, Scene 1 curtain goes up, it's 1456 and the setting is the Hunyadi castle known as Nándor in Belgrade. Everyone is celebrating their victory over the Ottomans in a stirring festive chorus [D-1, T-2]. This is followed by an aspiring cavatina delivered by thirteen-year-old Mátyás Hunyadi [D-1, T-3], who vows when he's fully grown to defend his people.
Scene 2 begins with FT [D-1, T-4] and the entrance of his older brother László. The plot thickens in the following ensemble number where we learn the Hungarian King is en route to the castle. Not only that, he's appointed his uncle, Count Ulrik Cillei, as governor of Hungary replacing László's father, who'd recently died of plague.
László then goes on to read an intercepted letter from the scheming Cillei, who has promised his father-in-law the two Hunyadi boys' heads. This enrages the assembled family members, and they exit to confront the King outside the castle walls.
The heath between the entrance to Nándor and the Danube River is the setting for the next scene. It opens with a spirited march (SM) [D-1, T-5] as the King accompanied by Cillei, the royal entourage and village folk approach. In an ensemble number [D-1, T-6] they request the castle be opened to them.
After another reference to FT [01:51], László and his followers welcome them to Nándor. They enter to the strains of SM, but in a combative chorus [D-1, T-7] the King's German mercenary guards are denied access and leave.
Now the seeds of royal discontent are sown as the scene shifts to the guest room assigned to the King. In a dramatic dissimulative duet [D-1, T-8] Cillei convinces him that turning away his guards is proof of the Hunyadi's desire to depose him. He then gets his Highness to sign a letter calling for their elimination.
The next scene offers a brief respite with an amorous aria for László [D-1, T-9] worthy of early Wagner (1813-1883). In it he longs to be with his beautiful sweetheart Mária, the daughter of Hungarian Count Miklós Gara, who's promised her hand to him.
Enter one of the King's army officers loyal to László. In a troubled exchange [D-1, T-10] he informs him that the Hunyadis will be invited to the royal palace, and shows him a letter from Governor Cillei ordering he use the occasion to kill them.
László tells his family and friends about Cillei's plans for their demise [02:21], and requests they retire to a side room until called. Cillei then joins him [04:04], inviting the Hunyadis to the King's, and is confronted about his evil scheme to do them in.
Cillei unsuccessfully tries to lie his way out, and finally draws his sword lunging at László [05:07], who diverts the blow with his arm. Hunyadi then calls his followers next door, who fall upon the Governor and kill him.
Hearing all the commotion, the King enters, and László not knowing of his involvement in the plot shows him Cillei's letter. Fearing for his life, his Majesty outwardly condones what the Hunyadis have done and forgives them. The act then ends in a joyous chorus [D-1, T-11] of praise for King and country somewhat smacking of Verdi's (1813-1901) middle operas.
The setting for the opening of the second act is a hall in the Hunyadi estate at Temesvár, now Romania. It begins with a couple of delicate ensemble numbers for the mother of the Hunyadi brothers, Erzsébet, and her maids [D-1, T-12 and 13]. We learn the King's on his way there, and she, fearing for her sons' lives over the murder of Cillei, plans on begging him to forgive them.
The scene shifts to another hall where Erzsébet, her two sons, Mária accompanied by her father Count Gara along with noblemen and ladies welcome the King [D-2, T-1] who enters to SM. In an exchange between Erzsébet and his Majesty [D-2, T-2] he promises not to take vengeance on her sons. He then notices Mária and immediately falls for her much to the delight of the Count, who'll now become the arch villain in this tragedy.
Three captivating numbers for mother and sons follow [D-2, T-3, 4 and 5] stylistically pointing the way towards Goldmark (1830-1915, see 28 February 2010), with the last having some florid coloratura. Then in a conniving aria for Gara set to an engaging verbunkos-like tune [D-2, T-6] we discover there's dirty work afoot! To wit, he plans to strike down László and marry Mária to the King.
These machinations are all the more distressing in light of a tender amorous duet between the young lovers that follows [D-2, T-7 and 8]. Granted this is out of Donizetti (1797-1848) and Bellini (1801-1835), but Magyar influences manifest themselves in some soaring melodies and catchy rhythms.
Then there's a festive orchestral preface followed by reassurances from his Majesty that he’ll take no revenge [D-2, T-9]. This is cause for devote praise from all for King and country [D-2, T-10] based on the theme in the preface. Tolling church bells toward the end conclude the act reverently.
The third act is set at Count Gara's palace in Buda, now the western part of Budapest. And following a custom that developed with the composer's approval, the first scene is omitted. We'll simply note it's between Gara and László, involves the two young lovers' wedding plans, and is of little consequence to the rest of the opera.
Scene 2 finds the King pining for Mária [D-2, T-11]. He's soon joined by Gara, who in a duet [D-2, T-12] promises his daughter to him, and goes on to say László's planning to murder him. The King then condemns László, commands the Count to arrest him, and hurries off. The scene ends with Gara singing an arrogant aria of triumph over the Hunyadis
The palace garden is the setting for the next one, which begins with a festive chorus [D-2, T-13] for those gathered to celebrate László and Mária's wedding. An infectious Hungarian dance with a graceful beginning and whirlwind conclusion follows [D-2, T-14].
Then there's a touching exchange for the intendeds with some coloratura for Maria. They declare their undying love for one another [D-2, T-15], but all at once Gara and his armed guards arrive arresting the would-be bridegroom and his followers, thereby ending the act ominously.
Buda is again the setting for the last act, which starts with a Magyar-folk-tinged entr'acte [D-2, T-16]. As the curtain goes up we find László in a prison cell where he sings a moving aria bemoaning his fate [D-2, T-17]. He also thinks of Mária, who having bribed the guards, suddenly enters! She begs him to leave with her, but trusting in the King's oath of no vengeance, and believing he'll get a fair trial, László refuses [D-2, T-18]
Enter Gara with guards, and in an urgent ensemble number having some valiant parting lines for the lovers, they take Mária off to "the deepest recess" of her father's palace. But László's fate is much worse as he's led away for execution to the accompaniment of a brief solemn symphonic passage. This bridges into a grim funeral march [D-2, T-19] that sets the mood for the opera's final scene [D-2, T-20].
The setting is St. George's Square in Buda where a thunderstorm has begun, and we see Erzsébet, Gara, László, guards and spectators around a scaffold with an execution block. She delivers a tempestuous aria [00:28] exhorting the raging elements to shake the world into realizing her son's innocence. She then sings a lovely prayer [02:02] begging God to save him.
After three axe blows it seems her orison has been answered as László is still alive. But a fourth does him in, and the opera ends with Erzsébet collapsing, the assembled onlookers exclaiming "Alas! My God!", and some final axe-blow-accented ff chords from the orchestra.
This is a demanding opera, and everyone on this recording comes through with flying colors. The cast includes sopranos Beatrix Fodor (Erzsébet) and Erika Miklósa (Mária), mezzo-soprano Gabriella Balga (Mátyás), tenors Attila Fekete (László) and Dániel Pataky (King of Hungary), baritone Krisztián Cser (Cillei) along with bass Gábor Bretz (Gara). The soprano roles are particularly challenging, and both here get standing ovations.
All receive committed, sensitive support from Domonkos Héja, who conducts the Honvéd Male and Budapest Studio Choirs along with the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. Maestro Héja's enthusiasm for this music is even audible at one point where he can be heard urging the orchestra on to greater things [D-2, T-9 at 00:37].
A studio production done at the Erkel Theater in Budapest, the recording is good. It presents an appropriately sized, clearly focused soundstage in a nourishing acoustic. The balance between soloists, choruses and orchestra is ideal throughout.
While the male voices and orchestra are beautifully captured, there's an upper edge to the women's. Had this been a hybrid release that probably wouldn't have been the case on the SACD tracks. However, with a stage work this rare we're lucky to what's here. Enjoy!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140809)
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Herzogenberg, H. von: Requiem, Toten..., etc; Soloists/Beckert/WürzMonte C/GothaThür P [CPO (Hybrid)]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 SACDs)
Some chamber as well as symphonic works by Austrian-born composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) have been mentioned in these pages (see 30 April 2008 and 31 May 2010). Now we'd like to tell you about three of his major religious pieces for soloists, chorus and orchestra on this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), release from CPO. These are the only currently available recordings of them on disc, and the album notes include English, German and Latin texts.
Their existence owes much to Heinrich's good friend, German musicologist and J.S. Bach (1685-1750) authority Philipp Spitta (1841-1894), who initially encouraged him to write a large-scale choral symphonic work. Although Herzogenberg was at first greatly influenced by Liszt (1811-1886) and Wagner (1813-1883), around age thirty (1875) he shifted his allegiance to the Brahms (1833-1897) and Dvorák (1841-1904) camp. Consequently the music here, which was composed in the early 1890s, is more stylistically in line with the latter two.
Like Cherubini's (1760-1842) Requiem (1816), Herzogenberg's of 1890 is for chorus and orchestra sans soloists. It was premiered the next year in one of Bach's old stomping grounds, Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church), Leipzig, with the composer conducting, and follows the traditional Roman Catholic Requiem Mass for the dead.
In six parts the initial introit [D-2, T-1] begins with a wrenching funereal theme (WF) in the orchestra [00:04] followed by a hushed chorus singing, "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine" ("Grant them eternal rest, O Lord"). Solemn instrumental and consoling vocal passages then alternate. There's a directness as well as dynamic ebb and flow about this section along with a concluding "Kyrie eleison" ("Lord, have mercy upon us") that make it most affecting.
Lovely lyrical moments in the Dies Irae [D-2, T-2] set it apart from the fire and brimstone ones typically found in nineteenth century requiems. Threatening Last Judgement passages are not that predominant, and this section of the mass ends with a restrained, gripping, timpani-accented chorus of contrition.
The melodically inspired "Offertorium [D-2, T-3] begins with an unusual walking bass. In two sections having some delicate a cappella moments, it's a plea for Jesus to deliver the faithful dead from damnation, and grant them heavenly everlasting life.
There’s a Bachian grandeur about the soaring "Sanctus" [D-2, T-4] that makes it one of the work's high points. It's a tune-swept creation that hoses down the congregation with a host of holy hosannas, has a rousing fugato, and all the verve of Handel’s (1685-1759) choral extravaganzas.
The "Agnus Dei" ("Lamb of God") [D-2, T-5] implores Jesus to give the departed eternal rest. It's a brief supplication in which pianissimo instrumental passages alternate with chant-like a cappela ones. A serene chorus and orchestra conclude with "dona eis requiem sempiternam" ("grant them rest everlasting").
This prepares the way for the concluding "Communio" [D-2, T-6] that begins with orchestra and chorus proclaiming "Lux aeterna luceat eis, Domine ("Let eternal light shine upon them, O Lord"). Prolonged organ pedal points add gravitas to the music, and underline references to eternity in the text.
Then there's a brief pause followed by a reminder of WF [03:33], and the chorus reprises "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine" [04:12]. The composer ends the work with a muted benedictory "Requiescant in pace. Amen." ("May they rest in peace. Amen.") [07:23].
The death of his wife in early January 1892 lead Herzogenberg to compose what he referred to as a grand sacred cantata for soprano, alto, tenor, bass, chorus and orchestra. Also having a small part for boy soprano, it was mostly written over an eight day period in late December of that year, and would become known as Totenfeier (Commemoration of the Dead, 1892-3).
Like Bach's cantatas it has a German text the composer fashioned from biblical passages and hymns. In this case the latter were those sung at his wife's funeral, which was a Lutheran ceremony.
In two sections, the first has four parts beginning with an introduction [D-1, T-1]. This is a commanding drumroll-accented funeral march for the orchestra with a brief choral passage declaring man's transitory existence. It's succeeded by a recitative and aria for the bass [D-1, T-2] lamenting human frailty, and concluding with the question, "Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen?" ("My God, why have you forsaken me?").
This is answered by a boy soprano representing the voice of God, and a chorus of basses [D-1, T-3]. The former gives a cryptic response that's in essence "time will tell," while the latter intermittently deliver commentary based on the chorale, "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" ("I call to you, Lord Jesus Christ" -- see Bach Cantata, BWV 177; 1732).
Then the first section concludes with a moving number for soprano and chorus [D-1, T-4]. It starts off with the words "Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben" ("I am the resurrection and the life") and a stirring fugue that brings old J.S. to mind. This becomes reflective, ending with "Wer an mich glaubt, der wird leben, ob er gleich stürbe." ("He who believes in me will live even if he should die.").
The second section is in five parts, the first being another recitative and aria for bass [D-1, T-5]. Sounding very baroque, this reaffirms the bereaved’s finding consolation in the Lord. It introduces a lovely quartet for the main soloists [D-1, T-6] based on the chorale, "Barmherziger Vater, höchster Gott" ("Merciful father, supreme God" -- see Bach Cantata, BWV103; 1725).
This hymn apparently meant a lot to both the composer and his wife, who associated it with grief turning to joy and everlasting contentment. The following chorus [D-1, T-7], which includes a resplendent fugue [03:37-05:04], eulogizes it, proclaiming the glorious world of Zion to come when mouths will be filled with laughter and tongues, praise.
The soprano aria that's next [D-1, T-8] is an airy gliding song with avian overtones and melismata on the untranslatable word "Sela". The cantata then draws to a close with the bass singing the familiar funereal refrain that begins "Der Herr hat's gegeben, der Herr hat's genommen" ("The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away") [D-1, T-9]. This prefaces a magnificent concluding episode for chorus and orchestra with trumpet fanfares [00:43] based on the timeless chorale, "Auf, Zion auf" ("On, Zion on" - see Bach Cantata, BWV 140; 1731).
In April 1894 Herzogenberg's good friend Philipp Spitta (see above) died suddenly, and the disc closes with a short piece occasioned by that. Entitled "Begräbnisgesang" ("Funeral Song") for tenor, men's choir and winds [D-1, T-10], Heinrich wrote it in 1895 for a ceremony dedicating a specially commissioned tombstone for Spitta's grave.
With a German text by the composer, the melody resembles that for the aria "Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen" ("I wish to watch beside my Jesus") for tenor and chorus in Bach's St. Matthew Passion (BWV 244, c. 1727). It's a beautifully worded comforting piece that must have brought great solace to the assembled mourners.
Soprano Franziska Bobe, contralto Barbara Bräckelmann, tenor Maximilian Argmann, bass Jens Hamann, and alto Jaro Kirchbessner of the Windsbach Boys Choir sing their parts with great sensitivity. The Würzberg Monteverdi Choir and Gotha Thüringen Philharmonic under conductor Matthias Beckert give them committed support.
Made at the University of Würzburg's Neubaukirche in Germany, the recordings are serviceable. The stereo tracks project a capacious soundstage in a highly reverberant acoustic. This creates a diffuse sonic image that some may find adds an aura of reverence to this tenebrous music, particularly when played in the multichannel mode.
Soloists, chorus and orchestra are well balanced throughout. However, there's an upper edge to the voices as well as violins that's a bit less pronounced in SACD. Other than that the highs and midrange are musically pleasing on all three tracks, but the bass end is blurry on the stereo ones with those organ pedal points in the Requiem [D-2]. These are fed to the subwoofer on the multichannel track, and depending on your system configuration, may not be as boomy in that mode.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P140808)
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Röntgen: Str Trios 13-16; Offenburg Trio [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The revival of Dutch composer Julius Röntgen's (1855-1932) music (see the newsletter of 23 September 2013) continues in full swing with the recent release of several discs devoted to his chamber works. This Naxos CD featuring the last four of his sixteen string trios is one of the best, and will convert many to his cause. These are the only currently available recordings of them on disc.
A distant relative of German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923), who discovered X-rays, Julius was born in Leipzig where he received his musical training. However, in 1877 he moved to Amsterdam permanently, and is accordingly remembered as a Dutch composer in spite of his music's German roots. While his earlier works show the influence of Brahms (1833-1897), there's a melodic elegance and structural precision characterizing these late, four-movement trios that make them singular Röntgen creations.
Early March of 1925 saw him complete the thirteenth whose first cantilena-like movement [T-1] has a lightness of touch worthy of Mendelssohn (1809-1847). The next andantino [T-2] finds the violin and viola descanting above the cello, which plays an insistent quivering motif.
The work ends with two allegros, the first [T-3] being a rustic dance with hurdy-gurdyesque passages [00:15 and 01:54]. Like his good friend Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) Julius loved to borrow from local folk material, and this movement may be a case in point.
The last [T-4] begins much more seriously with three wrinkle-browed Beethoven (1770-1827) chords. These are followed by a couple of anguished themes that are explored in an overcast development. But clouds give way to sunshine in the final coda [06:17], which despite a momentary reminder of the opening, ends the quartet exuberantly.
The fourteenth trio of 1928 gets off to an allegro start [T-5] with a serpentine rondo having a sinuous theme that's taken up repeatedly by all three instruments. It's followed by an andantino [T-6] where the violin and viola perform a sad tango over a guitar-like cello accompaniment.
Then we get a tiny scherzo [T-7] that has outer sections based on a perky idea in a major key bracketing a version of it in the minor. This ends deceptively with a brief pause followed by a cadential spasm [03:15] heralding the final movement [T-8].
A theme with ten variations, its quaint main subject (QM) [00:00] may well be a Dutch folk song. The first nine variants, which come in rapid succession, are prickly [00:18], imploring [00:55], songlike [01:17], pizzicato [01:51], swaying [02:10], consolatory [02:30], antic [03:01], draailier-like [03:22], and melancholy [04:01]. The tenth gets off to an antsy fugal start [04:39] followed by a restatement of QM [05:54], which also dominates the trio's glorious final coda.
Moving right along we get the fifteenth trio of 1929. The opening moderato [T-9] has an imitative opening with a halting angular idea that's elaborated. A couple of lovely nostalgic themes follow, and undergo some laid-back contrapuntal alterations. Then this section ends with wisps of past motifs, and some pizzicato spicing, which also introduces a miniscule scherzoesque movement [T-10].
After that there's an andante [T-11], which is a doleful chromatic duet for violin and viola over a sympathetic cello continuo. Then the trio ends with a quirky allegro bearing the strange subtitle "Finale automobilistico" [T-12].
This is a busy musical representation of a problematic five-week European motor tour the composer and his second son took with their wives (see the album notes). Julius even wrote "wie eine Hupe" ("like a car horn") under the viola part, which certainly seems to mimic one right from the start! All this ends the work drolly with memories of their ill-fated expedition.
The year 1930 saw the completion of his sixteenth and last trio. Like Beethoven's awesome fourteenth quartet (Op. 131, 1826) it's in C sharp minor, which is an unusual key for string instruments. The initial introspective andante [T-13] is a lament that may bring Max Reger (1873-1916) to mind.
This is offset by a delightful featherlight mercurial offering [T-14]. However, a feeling of melancholy pervades the lento [T-15], where a sobbing viola and violin sing a sad song eliciting a sympathetic, downcast response from the cello.
The trio ends in an impassioned allegro [T-16] starting with a fretful three-note riff bringing Beethoven's Serioso Quartet (No. 11, 1810) to mind. An agitated countersubject follows, and both ideas are repeated leading to a theme smacking of the Dies Irae [00:28] (see 27 May 2013).
A harmonically searching development, which is some of the most progressive music on this disc, is next. Then a recap of the movement's opening measures concludes the trio and this CD on a merry note.
All hailing from Offenburg, Germany, the members of the Offenburg Trio deliver sensitive, committed performances of these obscure pieces. Their playing is impeccable except for a couple of intonationally queasy spots.
Made in the Schüttbau, Rügheim, Germany, the recordings are good and project an intimate soundstage in a warm acoustic. The string tone is bright but pleasing, while the instrumental placement and balance remain ideal throughout.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y140807)
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