CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
15 DECEMBER 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.
Hill, Alf.: Stg Qts V5 (12, 13 & 14); Dominion Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This is the penultimate installment in Naxos' enterprising survey of Australian composer Alfred Hill's (1869-1960, see 20 January 2012) seventeen string quartets. The three four-movement ones on this disc are all world premiere recordings, and significant contributions to the genre! Like Langgaard (see the recommendation below), Hill sometimes reshaped older works into newer ones, and these would later become material for three of his symphonies.
The twelfth quartet of 1936, which was later reworked into his Melodious Symphony in E for strings (1950s; currently unavailable on disc), begins with a slow mournful cello theme (SM) [T-1, 00:03]. The other instruments join the lament, and the pace quickens with the upper strings introducing a perky innocent ditty (PI) [01:32]. A relaxed lyrical idea (RL) comes next [02:19]. Then SM returns [03:30], after which RL and PI become the subjects of an animated development [04:12]. That's succeeded by a recap beginning with RL [05:59] followed by PI [07:00] to end the movement nostalgically.
The mood becomes folksy and playful in the outer sections of "Humoresque" [T-2]. These surround a winsome melodic core [01:44-02:45], whose mood presages the next movement. Marked "Reverie", it's a soothing contrast to what's come before.
The finale [T-4] is a concise sonata form ending based on an antsy motif [00:00] and a related laid-back melody [00:58]. The two are intertwined in a clever development [01:55], and then the work ends with their reappearance [02:47] followed by a flashy virtuosic coda [04:24].
Also of 1936 vintage the thirteenth quartet like its predecessor was the basis for another symphony (No. 12 in Eb, c. 1959; currently unavailable on disc). It starts with a brash whole-tone episode (BW) [T-5, 00:00] hinting at the merry childlike tune (MC) [00:59] and swaying MC-related cantilena (SC) [01:45] that are next. The latter become the subjects of a terse development [02:32] with bits of BW thrown in. Then Hill recaps MC and SC [03:15] to end the movement with a smile.
A mischievous scherzo [T-6] has rhythmically catchy outer passages bracketing a sinuous pleading one [01:20-02:07], which is a teaser for the succeeding "Barcarole" [T-7]. This is a gorgeous number that finds Hill at the height of his melodic powers.
It puts the listener at ease before the exciting finale [T-8], which begins with a contrapuntally textured passage (CT) [00:00] based on a couple of comely melodies. Then after a brief pause, there's an introspective searching episode [02:06]. This is followed by another caesura and a recollection of CT [03:47] that ends the quartet sublimely.
Filling out the disc we get the tightly knit fourteenth quartet (1937), which Alfred would pirate for his Australian Symphony (No. 3 in B minor, 1951). The first movement [T-9] introduces a wistful five-note riff (WF) [00:03] that's elaborated, and followed by an angular WF-related idea (AW) [02:03]. The two themes undergo a fetching sequential exploration [03:18] followed by the reappearance of WF [06:49]. Then a zippy AW-fueled coda ends the movement joyfully.
The adagio [T-10] is basically a keening with sections based on a sorrowful version of AW [00:00] astride a short-lived sunny episode [02:20-02:56]. It couldn't be more different from the succeeding "Menuet" [T-11] that's an exotic modal offering. This may well have folk associations considering Hill's extensive knowledge of Maori music acquired during his years in New Zealand (1871-1910).
The lively finale [T-12] opens with a commanding six-note motif (CS) [00:01], hinting at the engaging binary theme (EB) that soon follows. This has a twirling first part (TF) [00:17] and lyrical second [00:21] that are contrapuntally explored, showing the composer had learned his lessons well during his years at the Leipzig Conservatory (1887-91). CS then returns [01:41] becoming more subdued and ushering in a crestfallen version of EB [03:20]. This becomes increasingly animated with a final reminder of CS [05:43], and last splash of TF [06:24] closing the work on a high.
Like the previous four Naxos volumes devoted to Hill's quartets (see 20 January 2012) these performances are by the Dominion String Quartet of New Zealand, and generally good. However, there are a couple of perfunctory spots that may have been sight-read. That said, we're fortunate to have what's here when it comes to rare, undeservedly neglected repertoire such as this.
The recordings were made over the past two years in the music room of Park Road Post Production, Wellington, New Zealand. They project a close intimate soundstage in a dry studio acoustic with the string tone on the bright side of musical. These romantic scores would have fared better had there been a feeling of more space surrounding the performers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141215)
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Kallstenius, E.: Sym 1, Sinfta 2, Musica Sinfonica; Beermann/Helsing SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Swedish composer Edvin Kallstenius (1881-1967) will be new to most readers as he makes his CLOFO debut on this adventurous disc from CPO. Like Alfred Hill (1869-1960, see the recommendation above), he studied at the Leipzig Conservatory (1904-7), and would later hold several important positions in Sweden's classical music circles. He also wrote over 125 works that include a significant number of orchestral pieces, three of which fill this release. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Compared to his compatriot Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974), who's frequently appeared in these pages (see 10 November 2014), Kallstenius' works are thematically as well as structurally more intricate and intellectually challenging. There's a harmonic complexity like that in Max Reger (1873-1916), and even an expressionistic dimension recalling Franz Schreker (1878-1934, see 20 November 2006), whom Edvin highly revered.
Some conservative critics in Kallstenius' day found his music hard to stomach and nicknamed him "Gallstenius", where gallsten is Swedish for the gall stones synonymous with painful digestive disorders. However, today's audiences should find it quite appealing, and even more rewarding with repeated listening.
He wrote five symphonies (1928-1960), each in three movements that follow a fast-slow-fast layout. The first initially appeared in 1928, and was known as Sinfonia Concentrata, which probably reflected a playing time of only about twenty minutes. It seems this was then put aside until 1941 when he came up with a revised version, which he designated as his Symphony No. 1.
This is our opening selection, whose beginning is a sonata form allegro [T-1] that starts with an austere thematic nexus (AT) [00:02]. This is spiked with rhythmic riffs [beginning at 00:16], which will appear throughout the movement. AT is then followed by the horns playing a rolling idea [01:42] smacking of Mahler's (1860-1911) funereal moments. All this is food for a complex extended development [02:24] that may bring Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) more progressive efforts to mind. After that a brief recap [08:54] ends the movement on a peaceful optimistic note.
A strange "Intermezzo malinconico" ("Melancholy Intermezzo") follows [T-2]. It's a combination slow movement and scherzo with halting portentous pizzicato-laced outer sections embracing a melodically affable episode [02:37-04:54].
The modified sonata form finale [T-3] starts with a bustling preface [00:00]. This is followed by an AT-related heroic theme in the brass [0:07] and coquettish waltzlike countersubject [00:39]. These undergo a nervous development where there's a mysterious reminder of AT [03:41] that bridges into a recapitulative coda. Based on the movement's opening measures [04:31], it concludes the symphony forcefully.
"Stones" also wrote four of what he referred to as sinfoniettas (1923-1958), which are shorter and more informal than his symphonies. The second of these (1945-6) opens with a delightful "Pezzo capitale" ("Poetic Piece") [T-4] based on a binary folkish tune (BF) that begins like a dance [00:01] and turns songlike [00:51]. What follows might best be described as a variational rondo where BF appears in a number of guises, ending the movement amicably.
Espressivo [T-5] is an amorous reverie just for strings with a melodic waywardness that precludes its becoming overly romantic. Then the orchestra returns for what the composer calls "Finale gagliardo" ("Galliard Finale") [T-6].
The basis for this is as the name implies a rollicking sixteenth century Italian dance, which Kallstenius turns into his own unique creation. To wit, he spices up the livelier moments with brief fugato passages [00:41, 02:52], and introduces a contrasting wistful idea at a couple of points [01:11, 03:23]. It concludes the sinfonietta in jolly rustic fashion.
Filling out this disc we get Edvin's Musica Sinfonica that's in essence a three-movement suite for small orchestra. This originally appeared in 1953 as a piece for strings. The composer then revised it in 1959, giving us what's here.
The first movement [T-7] begins with an arresting repetitive theme [00:02] that conjures up images of rowing galley slaves. It's succeeded by a related sobbing motif [00:45], and the two are alternately explored [01:37]. The movement then ends emphatically with a coda that's an amalgam of both [05:04].
The next "adagio poco religioso" [T-8] starts reverently, and then intensifies only to quietly fade away. It could well characterize a soldier's prayer before going into battle. And carrying that analogy a bit further, the final allegro [T-9], which features a valiant pugnacious theme (VP) [00:01], finds him marching off to war. Here VP is subjected to several transformations ranging from bold [00:25] to anxious [00:46] and swaggering [03:29], thereby ending the work triumphantly.
Having recently completed a survey of Reznicek's (1860-1945) five symphonies (see 6 October 2014), German conductor Frank Beermann introduces us to more little-known orchestral repertoire here. This time around he leads one of Sweden's oldest and most respected performing groups, the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra.
Just as he successfully captured Reznicek's more eccentric aspects, Maestro Beermann brings out all the thematic and structural nuances of Kallstenius' idiosyncratic scores. Under his leadership the "Helsingborgians" make a strong case for their countryman's music.
Made seven years ago at the Concert Hall (Helsingborgs konserthus) in Helsingborg, some 300 miles south-southwest of Stockholm, Sweden, the recordings project a generous soundstage in accommodating surroundings. The instrumental timbre is characterized by effulgent highs, particularly in the upper strings, and a slightly recessed midrange. As for the bass end, the orchestra is cleanly captured. However, those playing this disc at a good level on speakers that go down to rock bottom may notice some underlying rumble. This may be HVAC-related.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141214)
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Langgaard, R.: Cpte Str Qt Wks V3 (1, 5, Italian Scherzo); Nightin Qt [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
This third volume concludes Dacapo's hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), exploration of Danish composer Rued Langgaard's (1893-1952) complete works for string quartet (see 12 March 2014). The recordings of the first quartet and Italienian Scherzo are world premieres.
The composer constantly tinkered with his creations to the point where themes and occasionally whole movements appear in more than one work. Consequently the ordering of his six numbered quartets is misleading to say the least (see the informative album notes for details).
Rued's earliest effort in the genre came in 1914-5, and was in four-movements. But he soon put the opening two aside, and eventually scrapped the others, having borrowed from them for what he'd call his fourth (1931, see 12 March 2014) and fifth (1925-38, see below) quartets.
Then compounding the confusion even further, in 1936 he revised the initial movements, and rewrote the others from memory, giving us what he'd refer to as his first quartet. This opens our disc, and with such a disparate genesis, brings to mind another Swedish one we told you about last time, Kurt Atterberg's (1887-1974) second (1909-37, see 10 November 2014).
The opening andante [T-1] begins with a winsome folksy melody (WF) [00:00] that's manipulated, and followed by a short sighing motif (SS) [03:04]. The two are intricately developed [03:28], after which there's a recap of WF [04:38]. The movement then ends graciously with a final whiff of SS [08:07].
The scherzo [T-2] is an engaging whimsy with alternating fast and slow passages, the latter having reminders of SS [01:32, 03:43, 06:25]. Then there's a contrasting dark "Grave" [T-3] with a mesmerizing monotony typical of Langgaard's later works. It's based on a mournful recurring theme [00:01] slashed with four snappy surges [01:54, 04:26, 06:56, 09:09], and ends in a quiet optimistic passage [10:56].
The finale [T-4] begins with a "sostenuto" [00:00-01:31] that's the same as the one opening the last movement of the Fourth "Sommerdage" ("Summer Day") Quartet (1914-31, see 12 March 2014). A lovely SS-related theme with the simplicity of a hymn tune (SH) follows [01:33], and then a flighty mercurial ditty (FM) [03:56]. The two are alternately developed in rondo fashion, and the work ends joyfully with an FM-based coda [09:07].
The composer frequently gave his works colorful titles, and the fifth quartet (1925, revised 1926-38) was at one time called "Fjerne Melodier" ("Faraway Melodies"). This he later changed to "Glemsels-Stemninger" ("Moods of Forgetfulness"), which was finally dropped.
In four movements it represents the composer's disdain for all the avant-gardism surrounding him back then, and is a throwback to classical-romantic times. It has all the melodic inventiveness of Grieg (1843-1907, see 22 March 2012) and a structural integrity commensurate with Brahms (1833-1897, see 20 June 2007).
The first andante [T-5], which is in sonata form, starts with a gorgeous romantic melody (GR) [00:00]. This is followed by an anxious fidgety motif [01:56] and GR-related, wistful searching idea [02:23]. All these are the subjects of a consummate development [04:11], where there's a dramatic buildup and release of tension. It's succeeded by a recap [07:46] that fades into two forte chords that end the movement with a "So there!"
The curt scherzo [T-6] is a change of pace having cheerful dance-like outer sections surrounding a troubled episode [01:02-02:31]. Then the mood turns devotional in the moving "Lento misterioso", which is next (T-7).
As for the last movement [T-8], you'll get a feeling of déjà entendu with the melody that soon appears [00:26]. It's SH from the finale of the first quartet (see above), and will dominate this reworking of that earlier movement. This time around the composer gives us a sonata-rondo, which ends the quartet very much in the romantic tradition.
In 1950 Rued penned what he called an Italian Scherzo [T-9]. His last contribution to the string quartet medium, he wrote on the score "Can't be bothered composing the remaining parts, perhaps to no avail!" Quite adventurous with chromatic leaps and bounds, at only two-minutes it's a tantalizing teaser for what might have been his most progressive quartet yet. Maybe he'd become more accepting of the modernist trends then in full swing on the Continent.
The Nightingale Quartet is again in residence for Danacord's final installment of Langgaard's works for string quartet. As before their playing is not only technically accomplished, but reveals a great understanding and sensitivity for his music. It's easy to understand why they won Gramophone Magazine's 2014 "Young Artist of the Year Award" for these stunning interpretations of works by one of Denmark's most autonomous composers.
Recorded between January and September 2013, this volume was made by the identical production staff and at the same location, the Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Hall, Copenhagen, as the previous two (see 12 March 2014). Once again the stereo tracks consistently project a generous soundstage with the instruments ideally placed and captured in nourishing reverberant surroundings.
The instrumental tone is pleasing in all three play modes, but like Stenhammar's (1871-1927) quartets (see 6 February 2014), Langgaard's have occasional steely-sounding spots on the CD track. However, both SACD ones project a softer sonic image, and the multichannel mode puts you in a center orchestra seat a few rows back from the performers. It also imparts an increased sense of ambient space around each of the instruments, adding clarity to the composer's more structurally dense passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y141213)
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Lloyd, G.: Serf Prel, In Memoriam, Le Pont..., HMS Trinidad... (w Bailey); Soloists/Thornton/Bath P [EM]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
After a seven year hiatus English composer George Lloyd (1913-1998, see 8 December 2007) makes a long overdue return to these pages on this new EM Records release. It also introduces us to music by his younger compatriot Judith Bailey (b. 1941). All these selections are scored for full orchestra and world premiere recordings.
Like Langgaard (see the recommendation above), George shunned modernism to write music with immediate emotional appeal. This is very apparent in his exceptionally well received opera The Serf (1936-8, currently unavailable on disc), whose plot is about Norman-Saxon conflicts in 11-12th century England.
Containing some of his best music, it owes a debt to Verdi (1813-1901), and shows an extraordinary gift for melody. That's particularly true in the second act prelude [T-5], which is a delicate pastoral reverie where one can imagine gentle flowing mountain streams and forest birds.
But arboreal bliss turns to grief in the moving funereal In Memoriam that's next [T-6]. This was written in 1982 to commemorate seven musicians killed at a concert in Regent's Park by an IRA bomb planted under the bandstand.
The incident happened near the composer's London flat just a couple of hours after one had gone off in Hyde Park. Consequently George heard it, guessed what had happened, and rushed to the site. There he witnessed firsthand a scene of death and destruction that brought back memories of some horrible World War II (1939-1945) experiences he'd had (see his HMS Trinidad March below).
In 1900 the composer vacationed in France, and saw the magnificent Roman aqueduct known today as the Pont du Gard. Built in the first century AD, it inspired him to compose a brief tone poem that same year entitled Le Pont Du Gard [T-7]. Bordering on the impressionistic, he wrote on the score "A wild country; shepherds play their pipes; the Romans come and go; the shepherds play again." This well describes the music where rustic outer passages with attractive solos for the English horn surround a martial section presumably depicting the conquering Romans [04:51-06:49].
The year 1939 saw LLoyd join the Royal Marine Band, which was posted to the cruiser HMS Trinidad in 1941. He was then asked to write the ship's official march, and came up with the HMS Trinidad March presented here in its final revised orchestral version [T-8].
The piece had both good and bad associations for George. Good in that it was chosen over one submitted by none other than Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), which was subsequently, probably lost at sea. And bad, because it was a terrible reminder of his being one of the only two band members to survive the ship's torpedoing in 1942.
It begins with introductory drum and descending brass flourishes followed by a gallant theme [00:11] with a chirpy countersubject [00:48]. Then we get a flowing lyrical melody (FL) [01:05] and an endearing perky idea (EP) [01:38] worthy of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932). The opening is then repeated [03:07], and EP reappears [04:21] taking on big tune proportions to end the march triumphantly.
English composer Judith Bailey, who will be new to most, makes her CLOFO debut with this release. Having studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London, she's had a distinguished career as a conductor of several ensembles, including the Southampton Concert Orchestra (SCO). She's also an accomplished clarinetist and composer, who's written a significant number of works. Two of her orchestral ones are included here, beginning with a suite entitled Havas, which in Cornish means "Summertime".
Composed in 1991 it's a tone triptych inspired by three scenic areas in Cornwall, England (see the album notes). The first, "Lanyon Quoit" [T-1], honors a New Stone Age monolithic structure that brings to mind its big brother Stonehenge to the east.
The solemn mysterious beginning for woodwinds and strings [00:05] limns a desolate wind-swept moorland. Percussion and brass join in with passages smacking of Sibelius (1865-1957) [00:41] that invoke adamantine images of large boulders. The music then fades [03:57] ending the movement with a feeling of timelessness.
"The Merry Maidens" [T-2] takes its cue from a story associated with a nearby circle of stones so named. Known in Cornish as Damns Myin (Dancing Stones), legend has it these were once local girls who came there one Sabbath. They heard some delightful music played by two distant pipers, who were evil spirits in disguise, and proceeded to engage in a wild dance instead of going to church. But divine retribution was forthcoming, and with a flash of lightning all, including the pipers, were petrified -- shades of Glière's (1875-1956) Il'ya Muromets Symphony (No. 3, 1909-11).
Judith's depiction of this begins with a rocking pastoral tune [00:00] that gains momentum and strength, turning into an engaging bacchanalian caper with overtones of Ravel (1875-1937). Then dire percussion-laced passages [04:12], presumably representing lightning, are followed by a diminuendo and isolated wind chirps [04:38]. These bring things to a chilling halt as the maids along with those malevolent spirits lapidify [04:38], ending this section in stony silence.
The closing "Gwanas Lake" [T-3] honors a lovely coastal water area between Newlyn and Mousehole along the southwestern tip of Cornwall. It opens with woodwind quavers [00:00] and a surging pelagic melody (SP) [00:18] suggesting offshore groundswells. Then a drumroll [02:41} introduces a pious SP-related chorale-like episode, which signifies the past presence of a local saint known for his great healing powers. After that the opening mood returns with hints of SP recalling the eternal sea, and builds to a dramatic climax, bringing the suite to a powerful conclusion.
The final Bailey piece is a seventeen-minute, one movement Concerto for Orchestra from 1996 [T-4], which was commissioned for the birthday of the SCO's principal cellist. There are solo parts for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, trumpet, trombone and cello, with the last playing the most important role. They link the three sections and final coda making up this sonata form natal tribute.
The piece begins with a buzzing string motif (BS) [00:01] resembling the opening of Mussorgsky's (1839-1881) Night on Bare Mountain (1866). Then we get two themes reflecting the honoree's astrological sign (TA) and birthstone (TB), which are Cancer the Crab (June 22 - July 22) and a ruby.
TA is accordingly a water-element-related, liquescent wind and string idea with glockenspiel effervescence [00:50]. Then the cello surfaces [02:21], and in a relaxed passage introduces TR, which is a bold rubicund tune played by the brass [03:15].
Another tranquil cello interlude is next [05:20] giving rise to a dreamy, TR-tinged rhapsodic development. This transitions via the cello into a restatement of TA [11:08], which is the basis for a marchlike episode [12:29] with bellicose reminders of TR [13:42].
After that we get what sounds like the beginning of a TR-based fugue [14:23]. However, it dissipates into a spooky passage with fleeting stretto entries for the winds [14:57], and triangle-ornamented timpani glissandi [15:00]. Then the cello once again emerges [15:24] followed by the tutti, giving us a coda that has percussion-enhanced reminders of BS [16:46], and ends the concerto with a Rachmaninov (1873-1943) flourish [17:09].
The featured performing group is the Bath Philharmonia, which is one of southwest England's leading orchestras. Under their music director Jason Thornton they're known for creative programming as evidenced by this release.
Together they give magnificent accounts of these Anglo rarities, proving themselves some of Britain's finest musicians. In that regard cellist Miriam Lowbury and oboe (English-horn) soloist Jennie-Lee Keetley deserve a special round of applause for their superb playing in the Bailey concerto and Lloyd's Le Pont Du Gard.
The recordings were made at St. Jude's Church in the Hampstead Garden Suburb of London, whose organ was featured in the recent highly acclaimed film The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). They project a robust soundstage in a reverberant venue with the various soloists well captured and balanced against the orchestra.
The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by shimmering highs, a musical midrange, and clean lows that include an impressive bass drum thwack in the Lloyd march [T-8, 02:59]. While audiophiles liking an immaculately focused sonic image in minimally live surroundings may find this one a bit blurred, those preferring a wetter sound will love it.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y141212)
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Still, Rob.; Cpte Stg Qts (4); Villiers Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
English composer Robert Still (1916-1971) unlike his compatriot George Lloyd (1913-1998, see the recommendation above) would in his later years feel the need to adopt a more modern approach to composition. This is aptly demonstrated in his four string quartets. To wit, the first two are in the classical, early romantic mold. But the last embrace a soft atonality showing the influence of the Second Viennese School without becoming emotionless, hard-core twelve-tone creations.
The first quartet was premiered in 1948, and remained the only one ever performed in the composer's lifetime. It was then forgotten along with the others until done in concert this year by our performing group, the Villiers Quartet. Incidentally we have their lead violinist, James Dickenson, to thank for editing the original scores, thereby making these world premiere recordings possible.
Unfortunately Robert didn't date his manuscripts or assign opus numbers, so we can only infer when these quartets were written. Accordingly the first must have appeared sometime prior to 1948. In three movements, the opening one [T-1] begins with a stately fugue having a Bach (1685-1750) like main subject (MS) [00:01]. This prefaces a spirited folkish section (SF) [03:58] based on a couple of fetching tunes and sprinkled with traces of MS. The movement then ends wistfully with a sad reminder of SF's opening measures [07:28].
The next "Allegretto Giocondo" is a jocund puckish scherzo [T-2] recalling Haydn's (1732-1809) more playful moments. It opens with a perky dance (PD) [00:01] followed by a sighing melody [01:03]. The two then alternate with PD having the last say, ending things with a jeer.
Still closes the work with a "Tempo di Marcia quasi Passacaglia" [T-3], which is an ingenious creation starting with an angular MS-related motif (AM) for the cello [00:00]. It's repeated three times, after which we get a romanticized version of it (RM) [00:33]. AM and RM then become recurring ideas for a virtuosic free-form passacaglia that concludes the work pragmatically.
The second quartet's genesis was in the 1950s or very early 60s. Again in three movements, it's if anything even more folk-oriented than its older brother. The initial allegro [T-4] starts with a sprightly number [00:01] along the lines of PD in the first quartet (see above). It's followed by a quaint crooning countermelody [00:51], and the two ideas become the subjects for this condensed sonata form movement.
The central adagio [T-5] lasting twice as long as either of its neighbors, is the work's emotional center of gravity. It contrasts a sad rhapsodic episode (SR) [00:00] with a spirited dance section (SD) [02:00], and ends dolefully. But the skies clear in the final allegro [T-6], which is a sunny, brusque jig [T-6].
Dating from the late 1960s, the remaining quartets are stylistically a couple of quantum jumps away from the others. They reflect the composer's association with Austrian-born musicologist Hans Keller (1919-1985), who emigrated to London when the rise of Nazism forced him along with many others to flee Vienna (see the Stöhr recommendation below).
Hans had joined the BBC, and being twelve-tone-trained, became a key promoter of "modern" music. In this capacity he acquainted Robert with the intricacies of "Second Viennese Dodecaphism."
Consequently the last two quartets are an eclectic mix of classical structures and atonal themes. In four movements each, the third is out of Bartók (1881-1945) and headed towards Schoenberg (1874-1951). The initial allegro [T-7] is a theme with variations, whose main subject [00:00] comes off somewhat like a bizarre version of the tune for "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". It undergoes several euphonic transformations, the last of which is imitative [04:34] and ends the movement indecisively.
You'll find the adagio [T-8] a moving contemplation of a sinuous disembodied idea, while the next allegro [T-9] is an antsy scherzo. Then the quartet concludes with another of Still's "Tempo di Marcia" [T-10] movements (see above). However, this time around it's a rondo based on a rhythmically twitchy thematic nexus [00:00] followed by a rhapsodic countersubject [01:20]. These recur in different guises, and end the piece in a flurry of virtuosic fiddling.
The fourth quartet is a few steps closer to Schoenberg right from the start of its initial allegro [T-11]. This begins with an eight-note tone row (ET) played by the cello [00:00-00:03], and becomes a theme and variations like the opening of the previous work. ET is subjected to a number of permutations and rhythmic alterations, but Still recalls it frequently enough to preclude the movement's becoming a cold, calculated intellectual exercise.
Then there's a respite with the next lento [T-12] that has pensive outer sections surrounding an anxious passage [02:09-03:11]. It finds the composer walking a fine line between extreme chromaticism and atonality.
At only 3½-minutes, the following movement [T-13] is another "Tempo di Marcia" (see above), and the closest one here to a pure twelve-tone utterance. It's a curt scherzo with prickly passages bracketing a melancholy moment [01:34-01:56].
The work's finale marked "Angoscioso" ("With Anguish") [T-14] begins with an eight-note, rising-falling motif (FR) for the viola [00:00]. FR is a musical blastoma that will infect the entire movement, bringing the piece to a despondent demise. Once again there are sufficient reminders of FR to give the music a feeling of unity and resultant emotional dimension.
As stated above we have the Villiers Quartet to thank for resurrecting everything here. These technically accomplished musicians give us highly sensitive readings of Still's remarkable works. It's too bad he's not around to hear them!
The recordings were made over the past two years in The Church of St. Silas the Martyr, London. They project a suitably proportioned soundstage in warm surroundings with enough reverberation to soften the music without blurring it. The instruments are ideally placed as well as balanced against one another, and the string tone is generally lifelike aside from a few bright spots.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141211)
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Stöhr, R.: Vc Son, Fantasiestücke (vc & pno); Koch/Conway [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born in Vienna of Hungarian-Jewish parents, Richard Stern (1874-1967) first got a medical degree, but in 1898 he decided to become a musician, and changed his surname to Stöhr. Richard then went on to study with the renowned Robert Fuchs (1847-1927, see 25 April 2012), who also taught Korngold (1897-1957, see 31 March 2011) and Zemlinsky (1871-1942, see 15 June 2008). Then with the rise of anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany, the latter two along with Stöhr were forced to leave Austria, and by the end of 1938 all three had taken up residence in the United States.
Once in the U.S. Stöhr would also use an Anglicized version of his last name replacing the "ö" with "oe", as Schoenberg (1874-1951) had done. In addition to becoming a highly respected teacher, who could count Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) among his students, he'd write a significant body of music during his long career. This would include seven symphonies, many vocal pieces, and a great number of chamber works. The two for cello and piano, which were composed during his years in Austria, are included here. These are first recordings.
The program begins with his four Fantasiestücke (Fantasy Pieces) of 1907, which show the influence of Schumann (1810-1856) and Brahms (1833-1897). The beginning andante espressivo opens with a winsome amorous melody (WA) for the cello [00:01] that's taken up by the piano [1:07], and briefly elaborated. An animated countersubject (AC) then appears on the piano [02:19] with cello pizzicato decorations. AC is explored and WA returns [03:33] succeeded by hints of AC that end the piece in quiet restraint.
The next andantino grazioso [T-2] has the temperament of a scherzo with capricious outer sections surrounding an excited developmental episode [01:30-03:06]. It couldn't be more different from the following andante con moto [T-3], which is an emotionally wrought duet.
This starts with the piano playing a slow melancholy theme (SM) [00:00] to a weeping cello accompaniment [00:21]. SM is then emphatically restated [01:08], and undergoes several inventive transformations.
These are succeeded by a canon-like number [02:28] testifying to Stöhr's love and mastery of counterpoint. Here the piano plays a gentler version of SM against a cello pizzicato rendition of it. This leads to a dramatic exploration of SM [03:15] that increases in intensity and suddenly fades, ending the piece tranquilly.
The final prestissimo [T-4] opens with a flighty sparkling ditty (FS) [00:00] recalling Mendelssohn (1809-1847), which gives way to a comely lyrical tune (CL) presented by the cello [01:01]. An attractive pensive episode (AP) is next [01:30-03:22] followed by a variant of FS [03:30]. Reminders of CL [04:11] as well as AP [04:29] then appear, and the work concludes with a merry upward flourish.
Richard's only other piece for this combination of instruments is a three-movement sonata dating from 1915. It was composed during the World War I years (1914-8) while he was serving as an Austrian Army doctor in a hospital near Vienna.
The initial allegro [T-5] starts with the cello playing a spacious valiant theme (SV) [00:05] that's pondered and enthusiastically taken up by the piano [01:54]. This transitions into a nursery-tune-like idea (NT) for the cello [03:13] that's briefly explored.
After that both become the subjects of a chromatically searching development [04:36] succeeded by a recap of SV [07:49] and NT [09:32]. These are combined in a thrilling virtuosic coda [11:16], which accelerates and slows to conclude the movement peacefully.
The middle andante [T-6] is a moving stygian introspection. It seems to lament the horrors of the Great War personified by the hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers Dr. Stöhr must have attended. However, the mood becomes more uplifting in the final allegro [T-7].
Here the cello introduces a cheerful tune [00:04] somewhat anticipating the melody for Cole Porter's (1891-1964) "Wunderbar" (Kiss Me, Kate, 1958). This prefaces what seems like a hymn of hope (HH) [01:21] for an end to hostilities.
However, a succeeding combative development involving both ideas [03:11] reminds us the conflict was still raging all around the composer. Then there's a moment of relief with a gorgeous SV-related conciliatory melody (SC) [04:30]. But this is soon quashed by a virtuosic, even more belligerent outburst [05:27]. In the end, though, hope springs eternal! Remembrances of HH [07:38] along with SC [08:01, 10:07] then conclude the sonata and this remarkable disc of discovery with hopes for world peace.
Cellist Stefan Koch and pianist Robert Conway turn in fine performances of these two works. Made last year at The Brookwood Studio in Plymouth, Michigan, the recordings project a narrow sonic image in a dry acoustic. Depending on your system settings, some may find the sound skewed right, and want to adjust their balance controls accordingly.
Generally speaking the instrumental timbre is musical except for forte passages where the highs become somewhat raspy. This would seem related to the microphone(s) and/or electronics used.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P141210)
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