CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
10 NOVEMBER 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.
Atterberg: Stg Qts 1 (Op 11) & 2 (Op 39/2); Rangström: Stg Qt "Notturno nella Maniera…"; Stenh Qt [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
In retrospect Swedish composer Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974) has been among the most memorable of the formerly little-known ones brought back into the sunlight by the CD. The adventurous CPO label deserves a great deal of credit for this with their many groundbreaking releases of his orchestral fare (see 18 April 2006).
Now they turn their attention to his chamber music, which includes several pieces scored for string quartet. This disc includes both of the works he actually designated as quartets. Oddly enough one of them has two opus numbers since its outer movements were written in 1937, and inner ones some thirty years earlier. There's also Atterberg's other effort from 1918, and his compatriot Ture Rangström's (1884-1947) sole work in the genre. These are the only complete recordings of them currently available on disc.
The 1918 quartet, which we've designate as "1", is in three movements and begins with an allegro [T-1]. This is a theme and variations with an initial subject having tandem contrasting ideas that are respectively high-strung (HS) [00:02] and impressionistically mysterious (IM) [00:45]. A variant of HS follows [01:52], and then two transformations of IM [02:34 and 03:36]. Another version of HS is next [04:49], after which the movement ends with a brief remembrance of IM [05;53].
The middle andante [T-2] is a pizzicato-laced sorrowful song that's dramatically explored. The poignant closing measures bring it to a hibernal conclusion, which is offset by the final allegro [T-3]. This is a virtuosic rondo based on a blusterous theme [00:08]. It ends the quartet with plenty of opportunities for the performers to demonstrate their technical prowess.
As mentioned above, the other quartet, which we've marked number "2", is a mixed bag whose outer movements date from 1937, and inner two 1909. The initial sonata form allegro [T-4] begins with a winsome flowing melody (WF) [00:02] the composer salvaged from an early 1905-6 quartet he trashed. It's succeeded by a related jumpy motif [01:06], after which the two undergo an imaginative development [01:25] with a chromatic midriff. A tuneful recapitulation with some concluding pizzicato sprinkles ends the movement peacefully.
Moving right along we get those movements from Kurt's early years, beginning with a scherzo [T-5]. This has mercurial outer passages reminiscent of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), surrounding a sighing trio section [02:05-04:50] that somewhat overstays its welcome. Then there's a lovely youthful "Romance" [T-6], which by the composer's own admission is along the lines of Grieg's (1843-1907) Landkjenning (1872-81).
The last allegro [T-7] like the opening one is a later creation that came almost thirty years after the preceding two movements. It's a sonata-rondo built on a couple of disparate themes. Atterberg tells us the vivacious first (VF) [00:06] came to him in a dream involving Sibelius (1865-1957), which may explain what sound like rhythmic references to the last movement of the great Finnish master's violin concerto (1903-5). The other is a folkish threnody (FT) [01:04] that seems distantly related to WF.
They're followed by a colorful development [02:51] and the return of FT in rondo fashion [04:56]. Then a VF-based recapitulative coda beginning with a fugato [05:51] ends the quartet exuberantly.
The program concludes with Rangström's only quartet effort entitled "Un notturna nella maniera di E. Th. A. Hoffmann" ("A Night Piece in the Manner of E.T.A. Hoffmann", 1909). Ture was greatly inspired by literary sources, and this piece pays homage to the renowned German author-composer of that name (1776-1822), whose stories sparked works by the likes of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Offenbach (1819-1880), Delibes (1836-1891) and Tchaikovsky (1840-1893).
It's dedicated to Carl Nielsen (1865-1931), who told the young composer it would be useful practice to write a string quartet. In one movement, it's a theme with some ten variations [T-8], depending on how you slice them, and opens with a troubled, frenetic main idea (TF) [00:01]. The first variant is a dramatic developmental transformation [00:51] with canonic as well as pizzicato coloring. It's followed by a dying afterthought [02:50], then three variations that progress from sentimental [03:07] to contrapuntally sorrowful [04:32] and sobbing [05:21].
An angry adaptation follows [05:50] succeeded by what one could imagine as stalking catlike music [06:40]. Carrying the feline analogy a bit further, it seems the animal has pounced in the next biting, scratching variant [08:37], bringing Shostakovich's (1906-1975) more strident moments to mind.
Tranquility is restored with the ensuing peaceful offering [09:42], but not for long as a skittish fugue breaks out [10:27] introducing a big tune treatment of TF [11:30]. This ends in a morose halting chromatic coda [12:27] that concludes the quartet with a Nordic severity reminiscent of Allan Pettersson's (1911-1980, see 19 October 2012) music.
The Stenhammar quartet, named after another Swedish composer (1871-1927) saved from oblivion by the silver disc, gives definitive performances of these works. There's a technically accomplished eloquence and air of confidence about their interpretations that make these undeservedly forgotten works significant additions to the current recorded catalog.
Made five years ago in St. Peter's Church, Stockholm, the recordings have the performers comfortably spread across a generous soundstage in an affable acoustic. The string tone might have been somewhat steely had it not been for the moderating effect of this warm venue. The sonics will appeal to those liking a taut sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com,Y141110)
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Bax: 4 Orch Pcs; Va Phant; Ov, Elegy & Rondo; Dukes/Davis/BBC P [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
The last release of English composer Sir Arnold Bax's (1883-1953) music to appear in these pages was of questionable interest (see 9 April 2014), but this new one from Chandos is definitely worth investigating. It includes the world premiere recording of his Four Orchestral Pieces (or Sketches), and a newly edited version of the Phantasy for Viola. We have Bax authority Graham Parlett (see the newsletter of 29 June 2010) to thank for these.
The program begins with Four Orchestral Pieces dating from 1912-3, the first three of which were source material for Three Pieces for Small Orchestra of 1928 (currently unavailable on disc). Incidentally as of this writing ArkivMusic.com had it incorrectly listed on this CD as the later work.
Be that as it may, the initial piece "Pensive Twilight" [T-1] is a delicately scored Bax gem whose opening suggests cool evening breezes [00:04]. Then a gently swaying melody [00:39] conjures up images of the setting sun. An impressionistic development follows [01:25] with a contrasting flighty section [02:57] succeeded by an auburn melancholy idea [05:07]. One can picture old Sol dipping with a green flash [06:16] below the mountains near the composer's home, which was then in south Dublin.
The colorfully scored "Dance in the Sun" that's next [T-2] is a jolly infectious caper! Described by the composer as a scherzo and trio, it has bustling folk-tinged outer sections surrounding a cymbal-swishing central one [03:21-04:29]. It presages Sir Malcom Arnold's (1921-2006) vibrant orchestral dances (1950-89).
For strings and harp, "From the Mountains of Home (In the Hills of Home)" [T-3] begins with a passionate yearning theme (PY) [00:01] followed by a flowing folkish melody [01:07]. The latter is amorously elaborated, and then the piece ends somberly with wistful memories of PY.
Concluding this attractive suite there's The Dance of Wild Irravel [T-4], where "Irravel" is one of those words the composer so loved to make up. Graham Parlett (see above) tells us it originated from a Gaelic term referring to hallucinative dreaming or delirium, and on that note it's an effusive, brilliantly scored waltz anticipating Ravel's La valse (1920). It ends the work mischievously and represents a major improvement over the rambling waltz that surrounds the third movement of Bax's youthful Symphony in F (1907, see 9 April 2014).
Originally called a concerto, the Phantasy for Viola and Orchestra was written in 1920 for the great British violist Lionel Tertis (1876-1975, see 27 August 2012). The work was heavily influenced by the concurrent turmoil in Ireland surrounding such charismatic revolutionary leaders as Michael Collins (1890-1922).
Consisting of three conjoined movements whose tempos are in constant flux, the first begins with an orchestral flourish and a grieving cadenza. Here the viola intones a halting sorrowful idea (HS) [00:02] presumably lamenting the terrible times then gripping the country. A perky marching ditty (PM) follows [02:25], and is explored leading to a mellifluous melodic idea (MM) [05:26].
Martial trumpet calls based on PM [06:59] announce the return of HS [07:16], which transitions into the next movement [T-6]. It begins with the soloist playing the melody for the winsome Irish folk song "O Pretty Brown-Haired Girl..." [00:15], which is the subject of a rhapsodic development. HS then returns on the English horn in an even more grievous guise, this time bridging into the finale [T-7].
Spirits lighten here with the viola playing a jig [00:03] followed by a pleasing romantic melody [01:21], both most likely of folk origin. They're explored with reminders of PM [02:55] as well as MM [04:27]. Then there's a fleeting reference to the Sinn Féin Marching Song [05:24], which would become Ireland's national anthem. After that the soloist plays a triumphal version of HS [06:06] over an exultant orchestral accompaniment, ending the Phantasy with hopes for better days.
The disc is filled out with Overture, Elegy and Rondo of 1927. "Overture" [T-8] finds the composer in a more neoclassical frame of mind, and begins with a couple of busy propulsive themes [00:05 and 01:07] that are briefly explored. The music then slows into an oneiric chromatic episode [02:49] featuring a dreamy melody [03:16]. This builds to a dramatic climax that suddenly ends with a recap amalgamating the first two ideas [05:22]. They're also the fuel for a coruscating coda, which concludes the "Overture" with a smile.
Arnold's impressionistic proclivities return in "Elegy" [T-9], whose beginning smacks of Ravel's more mysterious moments. It hints at the succeeding exquisite berceuse-like conclusion with what Bax described as "a soft rocking theme in the nature of a cradlesong" [05:35], .
The closing "Rondo" [T-10] gets off to a lively start with an ebullient horn theme (EH) [00:00] bringing to mind hunters on horseback. Then the mood becomes ominous as EH undergoes several sinister transformations [01:17]. But the clouds roll by, and EH returns in its most cheery form yet [04:08]. It's the basis for a thrilling coda [06:03] that brings the work to a triumphant conclusion.
Violist Philip Dukes raises the bar for the Phantasy, delivering a performance that would have turned Lionel Tertis (see above) green with envy. He receives magnificent support from the BBC Philharmonic under Sir Andrew Davis, who goes on to lead them in dazzling accounts of the other works. Maestro Davis' attention to balance and phrasing brings out all the detail of these Technicolor scores.
Made at the BBC's new MediaCityUK facility along the City of Salford's dock area in Manchester, England, the recordings project a spacious but well-focused soundstage in this pleasantly reverberant venue. The Chandos engineers successfully capture Mr. Dukes' velvety tone. He's ideally balanced against the orchestra, which is convincingly musical over the considerable dynamic range and extended frequency spectrum engendered by this lush music. Late romantic enthusiasts and audiophiles will love this disc!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y141109)
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Hétu: Cpte Stg Chbr Wks [Qts 1 & 2, Scherzo, Adagio…, Seren (w fl), Sxt]; Soloists/NewOrf Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Naxos continues their welcome exploration of Canadian music (see 10 June 2014 with the complete chamber works for strings by Jacques Hétu (1938-2010). These are the only currently available recordings of them on disc.
Born in Quebec, he received his early musical training in Montreal, where he won several important prizes. These allowed him to study with Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992, see 16 June 2006) and Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) in Paris (1961-3). He then returned to Canada, becoming one of its leading music educators and most highly regarded contemporary composers.
The six selections on this disc, which span most of Jacques' career, are revealing cross sections of his stylistic development. Taking them in chronological order, the two-part Adagio and Rondo of 1960 was his first effort in the string quartet medium.
It starts [T-9, 00:01] with a theme that some may find sounds like a slow lugubrious variant of the one opening Beethoven's (1770-1827) First Razumovsky Quartet (No. 7, 1805-6). This is subjected to a couple of spooky chromatic transformations [01:31-03:40], and then returns to end the first part much as it began.
The closing section [T-10] is a complete contrast, and begins with an idea that starts a bit like Borodin's second symphony (1869-76). This quickly turns into a rhythmically cheeky tune, which is the subject of a contrapuntally seasoned, four-way exchange that closes the piece with a final shout.
Twelve years elapsed before Hétu completed his next chamber work for strings. A considerably more substantial undertaking, it would be his four movement, first quartet (1972). The initial allegro [T-1] begins with a jagged neoclassical motif (JN) [00:01], fragments of which are tossed about. There's never an idle moment, and then the movement ends unpretentiously.
An andante [T-2] provides a languorous respite from the foregoing. Based on a vaporous otherwordly theme (VO) [00:00], it builds and fades into a rueful viola solo. This is followed by a return to the mood of the opening, concluding the movement in the same spirit it began.
The succeeding scherzo [T-3] begins with a spastic motif [00:01], flighty figurations [00:11], and twitchy rhythmic riffs [00:28]. A pensive trio section follows [01:08-01:45]. Then the opening pattern repeats with the addition of some arresting pizzicato [02:34], bringing the movement full circle.
The final allegro [T-4] starts with a forte phrase [00:00] recalling the quartet's opening. This prefaces a JN-based fugue [00:16] that's suddenly interrupted by the reappearance of VO [02:36]. Then the movement's opening returns [03:45], after which there's a pregnant pause and an ominous postscript, ending the quartet tragically.
Sixteen years later the composer completed his Serenade for string quartet and flute (1988), which we're told is a musical commentary on the last act of Shakespeare's (1564-1616) The Merchant of Venice (1596-8, see the Sullivan recommendation below). It's an affecting three-part characterization of that romantic summer evening described there.
In the initial "Prélude" [T-11] pizzicato strings make it easy to imagine a vast night sky with twinkling stars, and the flute, warm breezes. A rapturous "Nocturne" [T-12] invokes the romantic pastoral setting of this act, while "Danse" [T-13] suggests a capricious peasant frolic, and ends the work with a hint of its opening [01:58].
Moving ahead three years we get the composer's second quartet of 1991. In three movements it's a stylistic departure where extended melodic elements dominate. The initial adagio [T-5] begins with the first violin intoning a searching wistful theme (SW) [00:01] soon taken up by the other players. It undergoes an extended conversational development leading to an impassioned commentary for violin and cello. A recap of the opening ends the movement like it began.
The next rondo-like vivace [T-6] opens with a three-part theme (TP). This starts with shivering string idea (SS) [00:00] followed by a bustling repeated rhythmic riff (BR) [00:09] and an anxious nine-note motif (AN) [00:14].
SS and BR repeat, succeeded by a waltzlike variant of AN [00:45]. The latter is explored and BR returns [02:00] along with some perky pizzicato. Then a romanticized version of AN appears [02:56], giving way to an exciting final coda [03:42] based on TP. This intricate movement is one of the high points of these pieces.
The work concludes with an andante [T-7] that's a heartfelt outpouring the composer wrote in memory of his recently deceased mother. It's an excellent example of his later melodically dominated compositional style, and brings to mind darker moments in the Shostakovich (1906-1975) quartets (1937-87).
During 1992 the composer completed his Scherzo for string quartet [T-8]. It gets off to a snappish start [00:01] with hints of upcoming ideas that include the opening notes of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Goldberg Variations (BWV 988, 1741-42) [00:55]. This is succeeded by an exciting, scurrying-string episode (SS) [01:11], and a lovely Goldberg-related, pizzicato underlined melodic passage (LG) [02:21]. Variants of SS and LG then alternate [03:28] with SS having the last say.
Completing the program we get Jacques' last chamber work for strings, the Sextet of 2004 [T-14]. A single movement [T-14] theme with some eight variations, it takes off with a leaping rhythmic figure that appears three times [00:00, 00:12 and 00:25]. Then we get the euphonic contemplative main subject [00:38] typifying his later stylistic preoccupation with melody. This morphs directly into a more harmonically dense, rhythmically complex first variation followed by an anguished afterthought [02:09].
Two dance episodes, the first being anxiously possessed [02:45] and the other restfully waltzlike [02:24], follow. Then there's an aggressive transformation [04:39], and sad introspective one [06:03], which bridges into a resigned variant with contrapuntal modal elements [08:38]. Some pizzicato introduces the concluding variation [10:44]. This soars heavenwards, and after a moment of introspection ends the work on an optimistic forte chord.
Our featured performing group is the Canadian-based New Orford String Quartet, who give exemplary performances of everything. Credit must also go to flutist Timothy Hutchins for his accomplished playing in Serenade, as well as violist Steven Dunn and cellist Colin Carr for their contributions to Sextet.
Made a couple of years ago at the Music Multimedia Room of McGill University's Schulich School of Music in Montreal, Quebec, the recordings are demonstration quality. They present a lucid sonic image commensurate with these chamber forces. The strings are perfectly positioned, and their tone is musically bright. Mr. Hutchins flute is beautifully captured and balanced against the quartet in Serenade
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y141108)
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Paulus: Str Qt Conc, Org Conc, Veil of Tears (fm To Be Certain…); Laube/Guerrero/Nashv S [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
With the death of Stephen Paulus (1949-2014) last month, America lost one of its most highly revered contemporary composers. Very prolific, we're lucky he left us with over 500 works of every description, including 55 orchestral pieces.
These include several concerti, two of which receive their world premiere recordings on this disc. Like the music of Charles Ives (1874-1954), you'll find references in them to hymn tunes.
The earlier concerto of 1995 is one of the few for string quartet and orchestra. Paulus tells us its marking "Three Places of Enlightenment" refers to each of its movements, which he says imply distinctive paths to enlightenment.
The first one is titled "From Within" [T-1], and begins with drumrolls along with agitated fleeting orchestral motifs [00:02]. The solo quartet then makes a distraught entrance with its members tossing scattered ideas back-and-forth. All this could characterize the random thoughts we experience, which Buddhist meditation attempts to replace with a state of mindfulness, whose ultimate goal is enlightenment.
At almost twice the length of the surrounding movements, "From Afar" [T-2] begins with the quartet playing a foreboding, Bartók (1881-1945) reminiscent motif (FB) [00:00]. It's followed by references to the American hymn tune "Sweet Hour of Prayer" (1845) (SH) [00:22], which may be meant to suggest religion as a road to enlightenment
The orchestra then joins in and we get a meditative development involving FB and SH. This becomes sinister and abates into a restrained FB-based fugue [07:55] that leads to a more threatening section with Ivesian piano tone clusters [09:57, 10:09 and 10:21] (see 31 March 2011). Then calm once again prevails with the quartet hinting at SH [10:53], and the movement concludes with a piano-chime-harp-enhanced epilogue [11:42].
Finally there's "From All Around and Radiating Ever Outward" [T-3]. Rather than implying a path to enlightenment this seems more descriptive of The Little Engine That Could. Moreover, it gets off to a chugging start in the low strings [00:00] with some decorative pizzicato for the upper ones [00:42]. Brusque rhythmic riffs pierce this opening section, after which there's a short lyrical respite for the quartet.
The journey resumes [02:14] with hints of FB in the cello [02:20].and low strings [03:25]. Then the concerto ends summarily with a last round of tutti huffing and puffing [05:17] succeeded by some frantic fiddling for the quartet [05:27].
Our next selection comes from the composer's widely performed Holocaust oratorio To Be Certain of the Dawn (2005), and appears in the middle "Remembrance" section of this massive musical memorial. With the title "Veil of Tears" [T-4], it can be played as a stand-alone piece, and is a lament for string orchestra meant to accompany a moment of public mourning.
A hushed Bartók-like idea (HB) [00:01] immediately establishes a sorrowful atmosphere that's further deepened by high wailing strings. These burst into a flood of tears [03:27] followed by a sudden dramatic silence. HB then returns at a slightly faster tempo [03:37] to end this keening regretfully.
Paulus wrote a considerable amount of organ-related music that includes the next Grand Concerto of 2004. The first of its three movements marked "Vivacious and Spirited" [T-5] begins with low rustling motifs for the organ and double basses [00:00], that climb ever higher through the upper strings and brass. These give way to a meditative organ passage over which the flute intones a flowing stately melody (FS) [01:26] followed by a momentary pause.
The pace then becomes highly agitated [01:56] as soloist and tutti chase each other about with an arresting shriek [02:08] and ligneous knocks on blocks [02:35]. Next the organ recalls fragments of FS [03:00], which undergo an exciting toccata-like development [03:15]. This harbors a contrasting introspective episode [03:54-04:23], and a dramatic big tune hint of FS [05:43]. A frantic FS-based coda [06:19] follows, concluding the movement in a joyful frenzy of notes.
The succeeding "Austere; Foreboding" [T-6] is a more serious undertaking. It gets off to a spooky start with a disembodied theme for the organ [00:00], after which hushed strings and pastoral winds enter [00:56]. Soloist and tutti then comfort each other in passages that are peaceful except for a terse brass crescendo [02:53-03:19]. A whimsical scherzo-like section appears next, where organ and orchestra play tag [03:42-05:27].
A short relaxed respite follows, segueing into a hypnotic swaying episode [07:00]. This builds to a towering climax with overtones of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Also sprach Zarathustra (1895-6) [08:02]. Then the middle strings suggest the tune for the Mormon hymn "Come, Come Ye Saints" (1846) (CC) [08:15].
This leads to another sonic cataclysm [08:59], which with two drum strokes transforms into a pianissimo wind and string passage [09:28]. The organ then gives us a reminder of CC [10:24], from under which restless, barely audible low strings emerge to end the movement uneventfully.
The concluding "Jubilant" [T-7] begins [00:00] with mischievous rhythmic accents in the strings spiced with more "blockwork" that adds an Oriental flavor. A brief jumpy tutti passage [00:12] then introduces the soloist, who launches into a toccata [00:17]. This is built on an arresting chromatic tune (AC) [00:20] calling to mind such great French romantic organ composers as Franck (1822-1890), Widor (1844-1937) and Vierne (1870-1937).
Soon the orchestra joins in playing the melody for the Scottish folk song "O Waly, Waly" (WW) [02:08], which many will identify with the hymn "The Water is Wide" (published in 1724). It's the basis for a tuneful developmental free-for-all [02:52] that includes a catchy, rhythmically hyper exchange for soloist and tutti [03:50].
A wild organ cadenza with percussive support follows [05:04], ending in a jubilant orchestral flourish [06:08]. This announces a staccato recap of AC [06:30] that closes with a frenzied coda [07:09], bringing the concerto to a thrilling conclusion.
Organist Nathan Laube gives a stunning account of this colorful work. He's at the console of the U.S.-built, three-manual Schoenstein Organ (64 ranks) in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center's Laura Turner Hall, Nashville, Tennessee, where these recordings were made. Brilliantly registrated and scored, this concerto would probably sound even better with one of those articulate, piquant European instruments. A case in point would be Rudolf von Beckerath of Hamburg, Germany's magnum opus in Saint Joseph's Oratory Basilica, Montreal (see 28 February 2012).
The Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO) is one of America's finest, and under their director Giancarlo Guerrero make a strong case for Paulus' music as they did Roberto Sierra's (b. 1953, see 6 February 2014). They give outstanding support to Mr. Laube as well as the solo quartet, which incidentally is made up of the NSO's concertmaster along with their principal second-violinist, violist, and cellist. Maestro Guerrero's reading of "Veil of Tears" is also extremely affecting, filling out a disc that's another example of the NSO's highly innovative programming.
The recordings were done live in Laura Turner Hall, but skillful postproduction touch-ups and editing have eliminated any extraneous audience noise or applause. The sonic image projected is wide, deep and reverberant with the quartet center-front and organ spread across the rear of the soundstage. A good balance is maintained between soloists and orchestra throughout.
Live recordings like these preclude an ideal microphone set-up. That and the disc being cut at a relatively low level, yield an instrumental timbre characterized by bright highs, but surprisingly pleasing mids and lows. This CD should appeal to those liking a rich cavernous sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141107)
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Sullivan, A.: On Shore and Sea, Kenilworth; Soloists/Bonynge/JPowSngrs/VictnOpNW O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Not long ago Chandos regaled us with the first complete professional recording of Sir Arthur Sullivan's (1842-1900) penultimate opera, The Beauty Stone (1897-8, see 13 January 2014). Now Dutton gives us another adventurous release with two of his rarely heard cantatas predating the G&S years (1871-96). The texts are not included in the album booklet, but can be found by clicking here.
The disc begins with the world premiere recording of On Shore and Sea, which Sullivan wrote for the concert opening the London Annual International Exhibition of 1871. With a libretto by English dramatist Tom Taylor (1817-1880), the story is about two Genoese lovers referred to as "La Sposina" ("The Fiancée") and "Il Marinajo" ("The Sailor"). He's been captured along with his crew and enslaved on a Moslem galley. In that regard the cantata seems more appropriate to today's turmoil in the Middle East than the occasion for which it was written.
After a brief orchestral introduction we get a rousing chorus [T-1]. In it sailors at sea sing a spirited chantey, interspersed with their women on shore brooding over being left alone. Then both join in a final refrain expressing their desire to "sweep the Crescent (Islam) from the wave (sea)" [02:58].
An amorous recitative and song for the sailor follows [T-2], in which he fondly recalls home and his intended. At a couple of points his shipmates invoke "Maris Stella" (an ancient title for the Virgin Mary meaning "Our Lady, Star of the Sea") to guard their loved ones.
Next we get an anxious recitative for his fiancée [T-3] with drums imitating cannon shots [01:47-02:05]. She describes the fleet's return, but her lover's ship is nowhere to be seen, and she presumes him lost or slain. This is cause for a sad song by her and some sympathetic women friends [T-4].
Then with a delightful "Moresque" ("Moorish Interlude") [T-5], where Sullivan again shows his genius for writing exotic music, the scene shifts to the Moslem ship. A brief number follows [T-6] in which the sailor tells about his defeat and chaining along with his Christian crew to the rowing benches. After that a colorful Eastern-sounding orchestral dance [00:31] introduces a thrilling Mohammaden call to prayer sung in Arabic [01:16].
But the tide is about to turn, and in another recitative [T-7] he exhorts his shipmates to free themselves with a key purloined from their sleeping captors. The moving sailors' chorus that's next [T-8] begins stealthily with them summoning all their courage to carry out an escape, and ends in triumph as they free themselves.
In the succeeding number [T-9] our hero tells about their taking the galley and heading home, after which there's a touching duet for the reunited lovers [00:32]. The cantata then concludes with a moving final chorus [T-10] that's an affecting plea for world peace set to a regal Sullivan theme.
The other work filling out this disc is titled Kenilworth, and was written in 1864 for the Birmingham Music Festival of that year. The libretto by English music critic Henry Chorley (1808-1872) is based to some degree on Sir Walter Scott's (1771-1832) eponymous historical novel (1821) telling about Queen Elizabeth I's (1533-1603) visit to Kenilworth Castle in 1575.
Back then it was the seat of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (1532-1588), who for three weeks regaled Her Highness with all sorts of extravagant entertainment surpassing anything yet seen in England. These activities provided the source material for the cantata (see the album notes), which Sir Arthur subtitled "A Masque of the Days of Queen Elizabeth"..
The orchestral introduction marked "A Summer Night" [T-11] begins with strings, harp and gentle timpani rolls that might represent warm nocturnal breezes. The gentle winsome theme that follows [00:47] undergoes a development having woodwind trills that could be interpreted as twinkling stars. It builds to a dramatic climax suggesting the impending arrival of England's great "Virgin Queen", and then quietly fades away.
The next ensemble number for the Lady of the Castle and mixed chorus [T-12] starts with ceremonial drums and a lilting theme [00:16] anticipating those infectious tunes that would soon come in the G&S operettas (1871-96). A glorious welcome to Elizabeth with martial overtones, it tells of the elaborate amusements planned for her, and ends with a reverential "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!"
The following soprano solo [T-13] recalls a skit at the festivities with an actress playing the Lady of the Lake mentioned in the King Arthur legend. We're told she apparently appeared on a floating island in the Kenilworth castle moat reciting adulatory verses. However, here she recalls Arthur's days and sings of awakening to a glorious new life. All this is set to an endearing Sullivan melody.
The next chorus and quartet [T-14] recreate a diversion at Kenilworth that featured Sylvan spirits and the mountain nymph Echo (see 12 March 2014). Set to one of Sullivan's catchier tunes, it's a cheery number invoking such mythological forest inhabitants as Fauns and Dryads (see 12 August 2014) to praise Oriana, which was the Queen's nickname.
Then we get a slow dance with mazurka associations, and a "la-la-la-la-la" refrain for women's chorus [T-15]. It's succeeded by the song of Arion [T-16], who appeared at Kenilworth on a twenty-four-foot dolphin float holding an entire Elizabethan orchestra.
This selection may remind you of "I am the Monarch of the Sea" that would come fourteen years later in HMS Pinafore (1878). The nationalistic text harkens back to Elizabeth's day, and concerns itself with building English morale in the face of an imminent Spanish invasion.
A two-line recitative for the mezzo-soprano [T-17] announces a playlet, which is taken from Shakespeare's (1564-1616) The Merchant of Venice (1596-8) [T-18]. It's anachronous in that the original comedy was written some twenty years after Elizabeth's visit. But who cares, as Sullivan gives us a moving treatment in Shakespeare's own words of the tender love scene in the last act between Lorenzo and Shylock's daughter Jessica (see the Hétu recommendation above).
Presumably set along a river bank, the orchestral introduction [00:00] and accompaniment to Lorenzo's initial recitative [01:11] and aria [02:06] portend the gentle opening of Smetana's (1824-1884) "Moldau" in Ma Vlast (My Country, 1874). He sings in praise of music, and has an amorous duet with Jessica [03:22] where they wistfully recall legendary star-crossed lovers. By the way, Jessica's line "Did This be fearfully..." should read "Did Thisbe fearfully..."
The following "A Brisk Dance" [T-19] has tarantella-like outer sections, which augur moments in The Gondoliers (1889), surrounding a tuneful inner one [00:55-01:51]. Apparently this and the previous number received the most applause at the cantata's premiere.
The "Finale" [T-20] begins with a trumpet call and mezzo solo [00:12], after which more brass flourishes emblazon the concluding chorus [00:50]. In it there are promises of more delights for Her Majesty the next day, and a call for trumpets to sound a bedtime salute. A final restrained "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN!" ends the cantata quietly, and is a fitting conclusion to all these festivities.
Soprano Sally Silver (La Sposina, The Lady of the Lake, and Jessica), mezzo-soprano Louise Winter (The Lady of the Castle), tenor Nico Darmanin (Il Marinajo and Lorenzo) along with bass-baritone Donald Maxwell (Arion), are in good form, although some may find Ms. Winter and Mr. Maxwell's vibrato occasionally on the wide side.
Renowned conductor Richard Bonynge, the John Powell Singers and Victorian Opera Northwest Orchestra give the soloists admirable support. All together they make this the best version of Kenilworth currently available, and On Shore… definitely worth hearing.
Recorded in an undisclosed venue at Urmston Grammar School, Manchester, England, the considerable forces involved are spread across a generous soundstage in a lively acoustic. The female soloists are stationed left of center, and males right. They are generally well-balanced against the chorus and orchestra, but there is a digital edge to the upper voices and strings. Had this been a hybrid disc that probably wouldn't have been the case on the super audio tracks.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141106)
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Tchaikovsky, B.: Pno Qnt, War Suite (cl qnt, arr & ed Astafieva/Prokudin); Soloists/Vanbrugh Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Mention Tchaikovsky and most everyone immediately thinks of The Nutcracker (1891-2) or Swan Lake (1875-6). That's Peter Ilyich (1840-1893), but there's another of more recent vintage, Boris Tchaikovsly (1925-1996, no relation), who along with Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is considered one of Russia's finest twentieth century composers.
Boris's substantial output is in every genre, and includes a significant amount of chamber music, which is sampled on this recent Naxos release. It includes the world premiere recording of his The War Suite.
Many consider the Piano Quintet of 1962, which opens this disc, his finest chamber work. In four movements the first "Moderato" begins with the piano playing a confident peripatetic theme (CP) [00:01] reminiscent of Shostakovich. This will pervade the movement, and soon attracts the attention of the strings [00:48]. They jab at the piano, and finally interrupt with their own extended lyricized version of CP.
This sets the stage for an imaginative development [02:13] where CP is subjected to a variety of dramatic transformations, including a rather bellicose one [06:05]. Then there's a peaceful piano-dominated recap of CP with sighing high strings [09:17], which ends the movement calmly.
The next "Allegro -- Largo" [T-2] could well be a characterization of an ornery jackass. The complacent string tune at the outset [00:00] is interrupted by a goading piano motif [00:29], which leads to a rondoesque development with leaps, bounds and even heehaws [02:11]. As the movement progresses we get conflicting moments where the music advances in fits-and-starts only to become obstinately laid-back. It ends with the animal quietly seated, refusing to go anywhere.
A brusque antsy "Allegro" follows [T-3] that might best be called a theme and deformations. Here a nervous subject idea stated by the piano [00:00] undergoes several highly integrated mutations. A masterpiece of structural concision it has the insistency of a Shostakovich scherzo, and places considerable demands on the performers.
Rather than the usual hectic finale, the work concludes with a hesitant reflective "Adagio" [T-4] that opens with a four-note, rising-falling, short-long-accented motif (FR) for the piano [00:00]. FR, whose rhythmic signature will infect the entire movement, is soon picked up by the strings [00:13]. It's then dismembered and rejoined in a variety of clever ways befitting Boris's reputation as one of Russia's most innovative contemporary composers. It ends the quintet on a mysterious melancholy note.
In 1964 Boris wrote the music for a Soviet Lenfilm production whose English title is something along the lines of "In Defense of the Front" (not readily available as of this writing). A World War II (1939-45) movie set in Russia during 1942, the original score for string quartet, clarinet and guitar was quite unusual, and lost shortly after the film's release.
Then about ten years ago after much detective work the Boris Tchaikovsky Society located it in St. Petersburg. Two of the Society's founding members, Elena Astafieva and Stanislav Prokudin, who were among Boris's composition students, arranged and edited it into The War Suite (2011) filling out this disc. Incidentally they replaced three isolated guitar parts with the second violin, making it a more coherent work.
Its eleven succinct sections are derived from individual cues. However, rather than following their order in the film, they're deftly arranged with the concert hall in mind since the music must stand on its own there. Each bears a subtitle inferring its associated scene in the movie (see the album notes for more detail).
The initial "Waltz (Farewell)" [T-5] is a rapturous number featuring the cello [00:00] and clarinet [00:51] playing a sentimental amorous theme (SA) heard when the film's two lovers, Rusanov and Katya, meet for the last time. Are those barely audible tings [00:34-00:53 and 02:57-03:15] from a clandestine celesta?
"The Night Breakthrough (The High Road) [T-6] underscored a German attack, and is for quartet with stabbing notes in the upper strings. After that there's an eerie "The Road" movement [T-7] with nervous pizzicato and spiccato passages. Then we get a wistful "Waltz Theme (The Trench)", which is an SA-related clarinet solo [T-8].
The quartet returns for the blitzkrieg "Tanks" [T-9], and grief-stricken SA-based "Mournful Waltz (Conclusion)" [T-10]. The latter was meant for the film's ending but never used.
"Country House" [T-11] is a tender scene for the lovers with the clarinet playing SA [00:00]. It's soon joined by caressing strings [00:48] giving us one of the suite's most magical moments. The quartet then returns for the next three movements.
An agitated cello dominates "Swamp" [T-12], suggesting all sorts of hidden perils, while "Divarication" [T-13] with airy upper and sorrowful lower strings limns the lovers saying their final farewells. It anticipates "The Battle" [T-14], where pizzicato [00:00] along with scurrying [00:15] passages suggest gunfire, and glissandi [00:58] the wail of air-raid sirens.
The concluding "Finale (Appointment)" [T-15] begins with the cello [00:00] soon joined by the clarinet [00:30] in a last waltz. This stops suddenly in the film when Rusanov is told Katya has been killed by a stray bullet. That's also true here thereby ending the suite all the more tragically.
Russian soloists Olga Solovieva (piano) and Maxim Anisimov (clarinet) join the Irish Vanbrugh Quartet for these technically accomplished, sensitive performances. They make a strong case for this remarkable music.
Made in different studios during the Quartet's Culture-Ireland-sponsored trips to Moscow in 2012 and 2013, the recordings project comfortably wide soundstages. While both are in pleasant surroundings, the venue for the quintet is a bit drier. The soloists are placed center, and convincingly balanced against the strings.
The music is all the more colorful for a percussively tinged piano and richly resonant clarinet, while there's a slight zing to the upper strings. There are occasional low frequency murmurs in the suite -- maybe they were moving pianos next door (Joke!).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141105)
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