CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
(CLOFO)
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS



30 MARCH 2015

CROCKS NEWSLETTER

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.

Since the first of the year there have been an increased number of noteworthy discs with unusual repertoire. In order to cover more of these in the time available for each newsletter there's a little less detail than usual.



The album cover may not always appear.
Hill, E.B.: Sym 4, Pno Concertinos 1 & 2, Divert (pno & orch); Nel/Bay/Austin SO [Bridge]
Besides being some of America's greatest twentieth century composers, do you know what Walter Piston (1894-1976), Virgil Thomson (1896-1989, see 22 November 2010), Roger Sessions (1896-1995), Randall Thompson (1899-1984), Elliott Carter (1908-2012) and Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) have in common? They all studied harmony and counterpoint at Harvard with Edward Burlingame Hill (1872-1960), making him one of that institution's most noteworthy professors.

Also a Harvard graduate, Hill received his first musical instruction there under John Knowles Paine (1839-1906), and would go on to Paris where he'd take lessons from Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937; see 31 July 2013) in the late 1890s. While Edward's early efforts show the influence of Brahms (1833-1897), his time in France had a profound effect on him as impressionistic, neoclassical and jazz elements are present in his later works. He also became the first American authority on Debussy (1862-1918, see 10 March 2011), Roussel (1869-1937; see 31 October 2009), Ravel (1875-1937), Milhaud (1892-1974; see 17 February 2007) and Poulenc (1899-1963).

He'd write a significant body of works that were frequently played in his day, particularly by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. However, like the music of American composers Arthur Foote (1853-1937; see 28 February 2010), Frederick Converse (1871-1940; see 8 February 2012), John Alden Carpenter (1876-1951; see 18 April 2006) and Leo Sowerby (1895-1968), Hill's oeuvres are just now coming back into their own.

Much of this is thanks to Bridge Records' ongoing series of discs devoted to a "lost generation" of American composers (see 18 April 2006). All the selections here are world premiere recordings, and two of them are first performances accordingly marked "FP" after their titles.

The program gets off to a rousing start with the seven-minute Divertimento for Piano and Orchestra written in 1926 [T-1]. Cut from the same cloth as Gershwin's four piano concertante pieces (1924-34; see 20 November 2006 and 22 November 2010), it's a compact work with a tuneful sauciness anticipating the keyboard concertos soon to come from Ravel and Poulenc.

Composer during the early days of World War II (1939-45), the last of Hill's four symphonies (1940-1; FP) is next. A rigorously constructed three-movement opus, the opening allegro [T-2] begins with a couple of anxious themes that undergo a stirring development. There are hints of the melody for the British National Anthem "God Save the King/Queen" [02:11], which may have been written by John Bull (1562-1628) around 1619. We also get some bellicose outbursts with pounding timpani [02:27] that add a patriotic martial air, and end the movement pugnaciously.

The following andante has somber passacaglia-like outer sections. They're based on a melancholy theme introduced by the English horn, and frame a funereal inner one [03:23-07:23] with dotted rhythm. The movement seems to characterize the juggernaut of war then gathering momentum throughout the world.

Hill ends the symphony with another allegro that's a perky rondo [T-4] whose main idea (MI) is announced by trumpets. There's an infectious British swagger along with a Gallic capriciousness about MI that bring to mind Sir William Walton's (1902-1983) more quixotic works. MI reappears in a number of variational guises, and ends the symphony in a state of syncopated exuberance.

Edward wrote two piano concertos, each in a single movement lasting about ten minutes. This would seem to explain why he called them "Concertinos".

The first dating from 1931 [T-5] is in three adjoining sections, and begins with a tutti-introduced, jaunty chuckling theme (JC) played by the soloist. A brief elaboration then transitions into a slower central episode {01:55], which is a rhapsodic treatment of JC.

This embraces a graceful cadenza [03:33-04:23], and bridges into a busy rondo [04:55] based on a hyper version of JC. The latter is cleverly developed, popping up repeatedly in a variety of transformations that include a fugato-prefaced [06:42], big tune rendition of it [07:15]. Then a coda [09:03] with some virtuosic keyboard displays ends the work in a jubilant ff chord for all.

The Second Concertino (1938-9; FP) [T-6] is another tripartite structure. It opens with buzzing strings out of which the soloist emerges playing an angular ascending theme. The tutti explore this and a skittering tune follows. The two ideas are then developed, and succeeded by a dreamy central section [02:52].

This leads directly to a closing rondo [07:05] with a brassy, Gershwinesque main motif, which appears in several fetching forms. The last of these is a frenetic variant played by the piano that kicks off a thrilling final coda [12:39]. The orchestra then joins in, and we get a display of keyboard pyrotechnics. These along with triumphal forte chordal outbursts conclude the concertino on a real high.

The musicians here are all newcomers to these pages, and deliver technically accomplished, stirring accounts of these works. Pianist Anton Nel's playing in the three concertante selections is letter-perfect, and he receives superb support from the Austin Symphony Orchestra under their Music Director Peter Bay. The latter also deliver what will probably be a definitive performance of the symphony for some time to come.

Made at the Long Center, Austin, Texas, these recordings present a credible soundstage in an accommodating venue. The instrumental timbre is generally pleasing, and the piano well balanced against the orchestra. However, those with systems favoring the top end may experience some brightness in passages with prominent highs.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150330)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Raff, J.: Stg Qts 2, 3, 4 & 8; Mannh Stg Qt [CPO]
Probably best remembered as Liszt's assistant in Weimar from 1850 to 1853, German-Swiss composer Joachim Raff (1822-1882) was also a distinguished educator and prolific composer. His output encompassed some vocal works (see 26 January 2011), but the preponderance is of the symphonic and chamber variety. These include eleven symphonies and eight string quartets, an early one of the latter having been destroyed by the composer, who was his own worst critic..

With this album we visit four of the surviving quartets. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.

At just over forty minutes his second quartet of 1857 is one of his finest and most energetic works. Three of its four movements are marked "Rasch" ("Rapid"), and even the "Langsam" ("Slow") third bears the qualification "doch nicht schleppend" ("but not sluggish").

The opening one [D-1, T-1] starts with spiraling passages that give rise to several attractive ideas, which include a lovely sighing melody (LS) [02:27]. A brilliant development and recap follow. Then there's an LS-initiated extended coda [10:31] with reminders of past motifs that ends the movement consummately.

The next movement is a scherzo [D-1, T-2], which begins with a flighty skittering tune (FS) [00:00]. It suggests Mendelssohn (1809-1847), who'd thought well of Joachim's earlier works. FS is followed by a laid-back pleading melody (LP) [01:16], and then returns introducing a distantly related, hunting-horn-like theme (HH) [02:34]. This undergoes a development, after which there are recollections of LS, LP and HH, concluding the movement as it began.

A gentle andante with a couple of retiring subjects is next [D-1, T-3]. The first of these returns, becomes outspoken, and gives way to a chromatically dramatic version of the second. That transitions into quiet hints of both, ending this section tenderly.

Another "Rapid" movement closes the quartet [D-1, T-4]. It begins with a cantering motif followed by an angular perky tune that undergoes an audacious exploration bringing to mind Haydn's (1732-1809) more puckish passages. Both ideas then recur, and after a brief nostalgic episode, virtuosic smiles conclude the work gleefully.

Ten years would go by before the composer returned to the string quartet medium. Then in 1866-7 during his recovery from a serious illness, he made up for lost time producing numbers three, four and five in rapid succession.

The third, which fills out this disc, is in four movements. The initial allegro [D-1, T-5] is a contest of wills between a fidgety first idea (FF) [00:11] and second striking Mendelssohnian motif (MM) with a commanding four-note opening [01:28]. MM finally triumphs over FF in a captivating development, and is the gist of a brief coda that ends the movement quietly.

The following allegro constitutes a scherzo [D-1, T-6] having jolly outer sections wrapped around a courtly dance. Then we get an andante [D-1, T-7] that's at heart a theme and variations, which finds Raff at his most inventive.

It begins with a gently swaying main subject (GS) [00:01] followed by a number of appealing transformations. At the same time there are underlying reminders of GS that give this the aspect of a passacaglia. Highlights include a chugging fugato variant [05:12], and lovely songlike treatment [06:36] that turns into a chorale [08:14]. This concludes the movement piously, bringing to mind the more devout moments in Beethoven's (1770-1827) late quartets.

The mood lightens in the final allegro [D-1, T-8] that's a twitchy undertaking with several engaging ideas. These chase each other about in rondo fashion, ending the work and this CD buoyantly.

Also dating from 1866-7, the fourth quartet is the first selection on the next disc. In four movements, the initial sonata form allegro [D-2, T-1] starts with two sad related ideas that are respectively crying (SC) [00:01] and resigned (SR) [00:57].

They're repeated [02:06], and followed by an agitated development with harmonically seesawing outer sections. It's notable for an inner episode that introduces a third theme, which is an amalgam of SC and SR (AS) [05:12]. Then we get a recap of SC [05:55], SR [06:51] and AS [08:45], succeeded by a final coda that begins frenetically and just quits!

A short scherzo [D-2, T-2] beginning with an antic fickle ditty (AF) makes for a fetching diversion before the emotional andante [D2, T-3]. The latter is a study in contrasting moods, where rocking, lullaby-like passages (RL) [00:00 and 05:35] alternate with emotionally charged ones [03:25 and 08:49].

The presto finale [D-2, T-4] is a cyclic syllabus of themes from all the preceding movements! It brings the quartet full circle, and begins hesitantly with recitative-like hints of AS and RL. Then SC emerges [00:45], after which there's a whiff of AF [01:06] followed by RL [01:20]. Not to be outdone, AF reappears [01:55] in a variety of vivacious forms, including a skittish fugato [04:17]. Towards the end fragments of past themes take a final bow in the exultant conclusion.

In 1876 Raff composed three quartets he designated as Op. 192, Nos. 1, 2 and 3, which are chronologically his sixth, seventh and eighth. Written at a time when he was arranging many of J.S, Bach's (1685-1750) suites for a variety of solo instruments and small ensembles, all three are based on Baroque models. In that regard they anticipate Max Reger's (1873-1916) Suites for Solo Cello (1914, see 30 March 2008).

The eighth, which completes this disc, is even subtitled "Suite in Canonform" ("Suite in Canonic Form") acknowledging its Baroque roots. In seven sections, the first is a spirited "Marsch" [CD-2, T-5]. Then there's a doleful "Sarabande" [D-2, T-6], waggish "Capriccio" [D-2, T-7] having some pixilated imitation [01:29], and an "Arie" ("Aria") [D-2, T-8] that's a tuneful binary-themed "Doppelkanon" ("Double Canon").

The suite closes with a folksy "Gavotte und Musette" [D-2, T-9] hinting at bagpipes [00:39], lively whirling "Menuett" [D-2, T-10], and final "Gigue" [D-2, T-11]. The latter concludes the quartet on a light Latin note somewhat along the lines of Ponchielli's (1834-1886) "Dance of the Hours" from La Gioconda, also dating from 1876.

Five years ago we told you about a stunning release of some Mozart (1756-1791) chamber transcriptions done by the Mannheim String Quartet (MSQ) along with three other performers (see 25 March 2010). Now here's the MSQ all by itself, and if anything its members make an even stronger impression than before. Their technical proficiency along with the enthusiasm and sensitivity they lavish on these scores make a strong case for music that in lesser hands might come off as ordinary fare.

A coproduction of CPO and Southwest German Radio (SWR), the recordings were made on a couple of occasions some eight years ago at SWR's Hans Rosbaud Studio in Baden-Baden. They project a wide soundstage in a suitably reverberant acoustic, which together enrich these occasionally symphonic sounding quartets. The instruments are realistically captured, except for occasional bright spots in the upper violin registers, and well balanced.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150329)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnlineHD.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear. The album cover may not always appear.
Rode, P.: Vn Concs V3 (1, 5 & 9); Eichhorn/Pasquet/Jena PO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Rode, P.: Vn Concs V2 (3, 4 & 6); Eichhorn/Pasquet/Jena PO [Naxos]
Rode, P.: Vn Concs V1 (7, 10 & 13); Eichhorn/Pasquet/KaisSWR RO [Naxos]
Roll over Paganini! There's a new guy in town, and his name is Pierre Rode (1774-1830). He was the star pupil of Giovanni Battista Viotti (1755-1824), who was the greatest violinist of his day, and founder of the modern French violin school. Giovanni left us a staggering number of concerti for that instrument -- twent-nine (1782-1817) to be exact. While Pierre couldn't boast that many, he did manage to turn out thirteen, which Naxos is now in the process of releasing.

The nine on the three CDs pictured above are each in three movements with cadenzas by our soloist. He's also recorded the remaining four, which will be forthcoming in another two installments. These are the only complete versions of them currently available on disc.

By way of background, from 1790 to 1804 Rode lived the life of a travelling virtuoso, and then spent four years in Russia as court violinist to the Tsar (1804-8). After that he once again hit the road until 1914 when he took up residence in Berlin. Then in 1822 he retired to the Bordeaux area, where he'd spend the rest of his life.

An active composer from 1794 on, his concertos differ from Niccolò Paganini's (1782-1840) in several respects. To wit, the violin is given dramatic solos of operatic intensity, while the melodic content is of greater variety and orchestration much more colorful. That said, as time goes by many listeners may find them preferable to Niccolò's!

The most recent disc on the left [DL] begins with the first concerto (1794-5) that's an amazingly mature work for a twenty-year-old. The exciting initial allegro [DL, T-1] is full of fiddle fireworks, including a demanding cadenza. It also has a couple of winning melodies that are skillfully manipulated, and stand out all the more for Rode's brilliant scoring.

A lilting adagio follows [DL, T-2] that's a heartfelt cantilena for the violin, which includes a pensive cadenza. Then the work ends with another outbreak of virtuosity in a polonaise [DL, T-3]. This has frenetic outer sections bracketing a more relaxed folksy inner one reminiscent of the concerto's opening.

Moving ahead to 1800-1 we get the fifth concerto, which is generally a bit more subdued than the first. It starts [DL, T-4] with a rustic idea played by the tutti that introduces an antic theme for the soloist. This is elaborated with frequent flurries of notes for the violin. Then we get a killer cadenza, which our soloist tells us he's laced with quotes from several other works. He also says they're identified on his website, but we couldn't find them.

The concerto concludes with a delicate siciliano [DL, T-5] and ear-catching "Rondo a la russe" ("Russian Rondo") [DL, T-6]. The latter is presumably based on a folk melody, and may bring to mind Beethoven's (1770-1827) Razumovsky Quartets (Nos. 7-9, 1805-06).

The disc closes with Rode's ninth concerto from his years in Russia (1804-8, see above). It opens moderato [DL, T-7] with a tuneful tutti. They roll out the red carpet for the soloist, who enters dramatically playing a couple of highly ornamented numbers. A fetching development is next, and the movement ends in a curt recap of what's come before.

A ternary cavatina follows [DL, T-8] having outer passages that find Pierre at his most melodically charming. They embrace a pensive episode, leaving the listener relaxed and ready for the wily allegretto [DL, T-9]. Another of Rode's effervescent finales, it closes the concerto and this CD happily.

All three releases feature the same violinist and conductor. Consequently remarks regarding the performances and sound will be found at the end of this recommendation.

The other two CDs pictured above came out a while ago, and have since received glowing reviews, which most readers are probably familiar with. So in the interest of saving time and space we'll keep the commentary to a minimum.

The middle one from 2011 [DM] starts off with the third concerto (c. 1798), whose first allegro [DM, T-1] is one of the longest movements Rode ever wrote. Commanding tutti passages open it with a couple of agreeable motifs that include a particularly attractive one for the clarinet. This is soon picked up by the soloist, and a bravura extended development ensues. It's succeeded by an effulgent recap and stunning cadenza that ends the movement pragmatically.

A yearning adagio [DM, T-2] shows what an accomplished lyricist Rode was, and augurs concertos that would come from Lalo (1823-1892, see 27 August 2012) and Saint-Saëns (1825-1921). It couldn't be more different from the final polonaise [DM, T-3]! This has an itchy Slavic main subject even more infectious than the one in the first concerto (see above), and brings everything to a vivacious close.

Probably dating from 1798-1800, the fourth concerto's opening allegro [DM, T-4] has a bucolic orchestral beginning with a couple of charming folksy melodies. These are taken up by the soloist with virtuosic embellishments that include some finger-wrenching double stopping. Several developmental transformations follow, and then a recap that gives way to a crazed cadenza. The tutti then return for a cursory conclusion.

A sumptuous adagio with a gorgeous tune that finds Rode at his most rhapsodic is next [DM, T-5]. But not one to let things get too romantic, he follows it with a zingy rondo [DM, T-6]. This is a note-swarming, finger-numbing exercise for the soloist with another brusque tutti closure.

In 1799-1800 Pierre made a trip to Spain, and the sixth concerto, which is dedicated to its Queen, was presumably written in conjunction with that. Next to the seventh (see below), it's probably his most famous, and begins "maestoso" ("majestically") [DM, T-7] in keeping with its honoree.

After a stately orchestral introduction, the violin dominates in alternately flamboyant and singing passages. These are notable for captivating themes, and are succeeded by a dazzling cadenza. This may give you a feeling of déjà entendu as our soloist tells us it was inspired by that monumental "Chaconne" in J.S. Bach's Second Partita for Solo Violin (BWV 1004, c. 1720). The orchestra then returns for a stock ending.

Like the preceding concerto this one has a ravishing romantic adagio of striking melodic invention [DM, T-8], and another sprightly concluding rondo [DM, T-9]. The latter marked allegretto features a couple of impish tunes that cavort about. Then a final bravura passage for the soloist and closing tutti statement end the work quickly.

Pictured to the right, the initial disc in this series from 2009 [DR] starts with Pierre's seventh concerto probably dating from 1803. His best known one, it found favor with Paganini and the great Polish violinist Henryk Wieniawski (1835-1880), both of whom must have found it particularly challenging.

The initial moderato [DR, T-1] has a feverish orchestral preface, which is followed by three violin-dominated sections. The first of these is aria-like, the second more agitated, and the third has reminders of past ideas, ending the movement in unified fashion. Then after a brief adagio that's a winsome ternary song [DR, T-2], the work concludes on a jolly note with another of those bouncy Rode rondos [DR, T-3].

Moving right along we get the tenth concerto of 1804-8 whose opening moderato [DR, T-4] begins with a martial-sounding tutti introduction. The soloist then enters in a less combative frame of mind, delivering a virtuoso-embellished serenade. This closes with the return of the orchestra to finish the movement like it began.

Another adagio [DR, T-5] that's a canzona for the soloist is next. However, unlike the one in the previous concerto, this has a cadenza bridging into the final Tempo di polacca (polonaise) [DR, T-6]. The latter is an infectious Rode creation that ends the work with some fiddle pyrotechnics, this time of Slavic persuasion, reflecting his years in Russia.

The thirteenth and last of Pierre's concertos (1828?), which was published posthumously, closes this disc. It gets underway allegro commodo (comfortably fast) [DR, T-7] with a lively tutti prologue succeeded by a captivating rhapsody for the soloist set to a bracing orchestral accompaniment.

As in the tenth concerto we get another melodious adagio sung by the violin [DR, T-8] that "cadenzas" into the frolicsome closing allegretto [DR, T-9]. One of Rode's most engaging movements, it ends the work and this disc joyously.

For many these releases will be their first introduction to German violinist Friedemann Eichhorn (b. 1971). And none too soon as his magnificent playing shows he's worthy of much wider recognition as one of today's finest up-and-coming artists. An incredible virtuoso, he only uses his prodigious technique in service to the music.

That along with the stunning support provided by Uruguayan-born, German-trained conductor Nicolás Pasquet should give these forgotten concerti a new lease on life. Maestro Pasquet gets superb performances from the Kaiserlautern Southwest German Radio (SWR) [DR] and Jena Philharmonic [DM and DL] Orchestras.

Made on several occasions between 2007 and 2011 at the SWR Studio, Kaiserlautern [DR], and Volkshaus, Jena [DM and DL], Germany, the recordings present acceptably proportioned soundstages in accommodating venues. Herr Eichhorn is well balanced against both orchestras.

As for the instrumental timbre, it improves with each subsequent release. More specifically the earliest [DR] has a much leaner sonic image with the soloist and orchestra's upper range on the steely side. The middle one [DM] is considerably more natural sounding, and the most recent [DL] falls into the audiophile category.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y150328, P150327, P150326)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnlineHD.com hbdirect.com
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnlineHD.com hbdirect.com
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnlineHD.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Stenhammar: Cpt Stg Qt Wks V3 (1 & 2); Stenhammar Qt [BIS (Hybrid)]
Here's the third and final hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), disc in BIS's survey of Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar's (1871-1927) complete works for string quartet (see 6 February 2014). This time around they give us his first two efforts, each of which is in four movements.

The Quartet No. 1 appeared in 1894 shortly after the premiere of his highly acclaimed first piano concerto (1893). Initially overshadowed by the immensely successful concerto, today it's considered a much greater, more sophisticated achievement. In that regard there's a thematic reserve, rhythmic intricacy and structural integrity on a level with the Brahms (1833-1897) string quartets (1865-75).

That's evident right from the start of its opening allegro [T-1], which immediately launches into a jagged, arresting theme (JA). This undergoes a chromatic development that examines its motivic constituents. JA then makes a rapturous return [06:15] giving rise to an elated coda [06:51] that ends things blissfully.

The slow movement [T-2] brings to mind the one in Beethoven's (1770-1827) Quartet No. 15 (A minor, Op. 132; c. 1824-5). Both have long German markings, and Stenhammar's translates as "Simple, but intimately sensitive". Like the Beethoven it seems to be a song of thanksgiving, but a bit more dour.

The informative album notes tell us the third movement is an intermezzo [T-3] that particularly appealed to Carl Nielsen (1865-1931). A relaxing contrast to the previous one, several light-hearted motifs are subjects for some Brahmsian banter between the four players.

It sets the stage for the final allegro [T-4]. This is a foxy rondo with a sly ending worthy of Haydn (1732-1809) in one of his more mischievous moments. Here a leaping five-note figure [00:01] introduces a folkish dance ditty (FD) [00:05] that's subjected to tonal and rhythmic flexures with FD popping up periodically.

Then we get an FD-related lyrical countersubject [03:02], which is soon chased by FD into a dramatic development. This is followed by a forceful recap [06:47] of FD, and an exciting coda that seems to end the quartet.

But just as the audience is getting ready to applaud, Stenhammar pulls the rug out from under them! The music unexpectedly resumes [08:05] with ethereal reminiscences of FD [08:05]. These become increasingly pronounced, finally ending the quartet definitively.

Coming just two years later, the second one (1896) is considerably more advanced than its predecessor. The initial allegro [T-5] starts with a vivacious ten-note riff (VT) [00:02] somewhat akin to the "Muß es sein?" ("Must it be?") motif opening the last movement of Beethoven's Quartet No. 16 (F Major, Op. 135; 1826). VT will infect the entire movement, and is followed by a chromatic cluster of thematic fragments.

These coalesce into a couple of tonally itinerant ideas. The first recalls Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) flightier moments [02:40], while the other is of an imploring nature (IN) [04:50]. They undergo a brief harmonically adventurous development, and are recapped [05:18] with final mournful allusions to VT and IN.

The andante [T-6] starts with a chorale that begins like English composer William Henry Monk's (1823-1889) Eventide (c. 1875), which is the tune most often used for the hymn "Abide with Me". Except for a nervous central episode [02:49-05:09], it underlies this entire pious movement.

An electric scherzo [T-7] with highly charged outer sections surrounding a contemplative thematically related inner one [02:19-04:54] lays the groundwork for the finale [T-8]. This gets off to a Beethovenesque, fate-filled rhythmic start with a stabbing four-note figure (SF) [00:01] that bedevils the rest of the quartet.

A scurrying SF-based passage then introduces a curt expansive idea (CE) [00:52], and a longer rhapsodic melody (LR) [01:33]. The latter soars skywards into an SF-dominated, contrapuntally striated, episodic development [02:33]. It's succeeded by a recap of CE [05:13] and LR [05:26] that becomes excited, leading to a moving final coda [06:45]. This ends the quartet sublimely with peaceful suggestions of CE and LR.

As on their previous two BIS releases (see 6 February 2014) the Stenhammar Quartet's performances are magnificent. Their superb melodic phrasing, stunning dynamics, and well-chosen tempi give this disc a considerable edge over the only other currently available one with these quartets. Incidentally the recordings on that date from over thirty years ago.

Made in late 2013 at the identical location as the other volumes -- Petrus Kyrka (Peter's Basilica) just north of Stockholm -- these recordings involved the same production staff, but different audio equipment. That probably explains why this disc projects a marginally more forward sonic image, and seems cut at a higher level.

As noted in the previous recommendations Stenhammar's lean approach to quartet writing gives rise to a steely string sound, which seems even more pronounced here. However, the SACD tracks once again have a somewhat less biting edge.

The multichannel mode puts the listener at a comfortable distance from the performers in this clement venue. It also imparts an increased sense of ambient space around each of them. This makes it easier to distinguish their individual roles in the composer's frequently convoluted passages.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150325)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnlineHD.com hbdirect.com


The album cover may not always appear.
Wagenaar, J.: Sinfta, Elverhöi, Frühlingsgewalt Ov, Amphitrion Ov, Le Cid Ov; Hermus/NWGer P [CPO]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
It's been five years since CPO's first installment of symphonic Dutch treats by composer Johan Wagenaar (1862-1941; see 15 January 2010), but you'll find this second volume well worth the wait. Three of the five selections are the only currently available recordings on disc, and so indicated by "OCAR" after their titles.

Unlike his compatriot Julius Röntgen (1855-1932, see the newsletter of 12 August 2014), who grew up and was educated in Germany, Wagenaar qualifies as a truly indigenous Netherlands musician, who only spent a year in Berlin (1892) studying with Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900; see 12 August 2014). An accomplished violinist and organist as well as a highly respected pedagogue, the informative album notes tell us Johan was the most popular Dutch composer of the twentieth century.

Our first selection is a classically structured, brilliantly scored, four-movement Sinfonietta completed in 1917 (OCAR). Right from the start of the initial allegro [T-1] there are fresh folksy melodies set to catchy rhythms that give it all the appeal of a Mozart (1756-1791) serenade. This extends to the nostalgic adagio [T-2], mischievous molto allegro [T-3], which is the Dutch counterpart of Berlioz' (1803-1869) Queen Mab Scherzo (1839), and triumphant final allegro [T-4] based on a Netherlands eighteenth century student march.

Springtime has been a source of inspiration for many composers, and Wagenaar was no exception as evidenced by his Fruhlingsgewalt (The Power of Spring; 1894, OCAR) [T-5]. It's a joyful combination concert overture and nature poem with no underlying story. One wonders whether Johan's Belgian contemporary Lodewijk Mortelmans (1868-1952) knew it when he wrote The Myth of Spring (see 27 November 2009) the following year.

In sonata form it begins with a radiant introduction [00:00] followed by two themes that considering the work's title could represent the propitious march of spring [00:29] and its rejuvenative powers [01:57]. A brief development and restatement of these follow [03:09 and 04:48] capped with a festive coda [06:41], leaving the work in full bloom.

Then we get a programmatic tone poem called Elverhöi (Elf Hill; 1940, OCAR) [T-6], whose underlying story is taken from an ancient Danish saga. It's about a knight-errant who falls asleep and dreams he's standing on a hill [00:01].

Before long, lascivious elves surround and try to seduce him [02:56]. However, it would seem memories of his Lady Fair [05:24] keep him from succumbing to their advances denoted by a seductive waltz [06:13]. His rejection enrages them, and the music turns increasingly hectic [07:20] as they try to kill him with their knives.

But dawn breaks and the cock crows [09:08] awakening our hero, who's relieved that this was only a "knightmare". Then horns announce [09:38] his continued journey through the peaceful countryside, concluding the poem presumably with everyone living happily ever after.

Another programmatic poem from two years earlier is next. Titled Amphitrion (Amphitryon; 1938) [T-7], it was inspired by Molière's (1622-1673) homonymous comedy of 1668 drawn from Roman playwright Plautus' (c. 254-184 BC) drama about a Greek mythological character by that name.

Amphitryon has recently married the beautiful Alcmene, and the work's spirited opening [00:00] announces his heroic departure for one of those many Greek wars. But when the cat's away, the mice will play, and here they're in the form of Jupiter, King of the Gods. He's completely smitten with Alcmene [01:26], and disguises himself as her husband just returned from battle. Totally taken in by this ruse, she beds the impostor to some amorous music [02:23].

However, the real Amphitryon suddenly appears [04:41], and upon encountering his wife [05:37] there's great consternation over who's doing what to whom [06:06]! In the end Jupiter takes his true form [06:53], and tells our returning soldier that Alcmene had not been unfaithful because she thought the god was her husband.

Jupiter then goes on to reveal she'll have twin boys, one the son of Amphitryon, and the other his, who'll become the demigod Hercules [07:34] (see 31 July 2012). This delights Amphitryon, and the poem ends felicitously.

Following in Massenet's (1842-1912) footsteps (see 14 July 2014), Wagenaar also wrote an opera entitled Le Cid (1912-4; currently unavailable on disc) based on a medieval Spanish legend. Its saucy overture [T-8] closes this engaging release with infectious Iberian-complected tunes that rhythmically turn on a dime.

As before (see 15 January 2010) Dutch conductor Antony Hermus and the Northwest German Philharmonic serve up this Wagenaarian rijsttafel. Their totally committed playing brings out all the melodic charm, rhythmic caprice, and harmonic piquancy of these infrequently heard selections. They make a strong case for a composer with a body of works whose quality greatly outweighs their quantity.

The recordings project a suitably sized sonic image that remains well-focused despite a markedly reverberant venue. With Wagenaar's lucid scoring, they're characterized by sparkling highs, a natural midrange, and clean bass. As far as audiophiles are concerned, only those liking a wetter sound will find this demonstration quality. In closing, pointy-eared listeners may notice a couple of thumps probably occasioned by Maestro Hermus' more active moments on the podium.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150324)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com ClassicsOnlineHD.com hbdirect.com


OLD BUT GOLD


The album cover may not always appear.
Joplin: Treemonisha (cpte opera, arr & orch Schuller); Soloists/Schuller/Houston GrOp [PentaT (Hybrid)]
African-American composer Scott Joplin (c. 1867-1917) believed strongly in his opera Treemonisha (1910-11), but could never get it published let alone find backing for a production. However, in 1911 he issued a piano-vocal score at his own expense, without which we wouldn't have it today. That's because the orchestral manuscript was destroyed in 1962 as it had been badly water damaged, and was thought to be unsalvageable.

In 1915 his reduction was the basis for an informal audition with the composer as pianist, which took place at a small rehearsal hall in Harlem, New York. Unfortunately that was the only performance Scott ever heard, and the work would lie in limbo for almost sixty years.

Then in 1972 there were a couple of semi-professional presentations that met with great success, confirming Joplin's conviction it was one of his finest works. Three years later American composer-conductor Gunther Schuller (1925-2015, see 23 February 2015) completed some magnificent new arrangements and orchestrations in keeping with what Joplin might have done. These were the key ingredients for the first full-fledged professional production by the Houston Grand Opera under Schuller, which took place that same year.

Shortly thereafter Deutsche Grammophon (DG) made an invaluable studio recording documenting this performance, and that's what's resurrected here. First issued on LP (1975), DG would later release it on CD (1992). Now PentaTone (PT) earns a big gold star with this invaluable hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/4.0), album taken from DG's quadraphonic analogue master tapes (left-right front and rear channels).

The PT sound engineers have directly converted them to the digital formats on this release, which include stereo CD and SACD tracks as well as a four-channel one. It's the only readily available version of the opera featuring a full orchestra currently on disc.

More than just a ragtime musical about a young girl, Treemonisha is conceived on a much grander scale. In three acts there are a total of twenty-seven numbers including an opening overture along with the usual solos, ensembles, choruses and dances found in a full-blown opera.

With a captivatingly simple libretto by the composer (see the album notes, or for a plot synopsis click here), the work was way ahead of its time in getting across a couple of important social messages. One was the concept of education being the road to black liberation. The other would seem to be an indirect plea for women's lib, when towards the opera's end Treemonisha is chosen as the leader of her people.

Set a year after the American Civil War (1861-5), a scintillating overture [D-1, T-1] introduces the opera's best tunes. Joplin tells us the first [00:02] represents happy people (HP) free from superstition and spells.

Then the curtain goes up on the John Smith plantation, which is surrounded by a dense forest, and lies somewhere in Arkansas. With the end of slavery the Smiths have moved on, leaving their now emancipated former black slaves, one of whom was a trusted servant named Ned.

An intriguing quintet follows [D-1, T-2] for him, his wife Monisha, their adopted daughter Treemonisha, her friend Remus, whose name brings to mind the Uncle Remus stories (1880-1918), and the senescent, superstitious conjurer Zodzetrick. It sets the plot in motion as Treemonisha tells Zodzetrick he must change his ways, causing him to threaten her with bad luck (see the album notes for details).

The next ensemble number is sung by a chorus of Huskers et al. [D-1, T-3], and succeeded by a dance referred to as a Ring Play titled "Were Goin' Around" [D-1, T-4]. With some fancy footwork for all, including Treemonisha's friends Lucy and Andy, this is magic Joplin that will sweep you off your feet! Then we get some touching melodic scenes for Treemonisha and her mother, in which we learn about the young girl's past.

She was left as a baby under a tree in front of Ned and Monisha's cabin. But they were never able to discover who the foundling's real parents were, and raised her as their own [D-1, T-5 through 7]. Originally named after her mother, as a toddler she loved to play around that tree, so mom decided to call her Treemonisha [D-1, T-8]. We're also told Monisha got a white lady nearby to school her daughter, making her the only educated black child in the community.

Some old time religion is served up in the next scene featuring Parson Alltalk [D-1, T-9], whose name would seem to be a Joplin play on words. He delivers a homily to his assembled flock with a striking "...been redeemed" refrain. In it he exhorts them to never lie, steal or harm one another, but do good and pay their debts.

Then the plot thickens in the chaotic Act I finale [D-1, T-10], where we learn from Lucy that Zodzetrick with his sidekick Luddud tied Treemonisha up and took her into the woods. Hearing this Remus puts on the costume of a scarecrow standing in an adjoining cornfield, and takes off in hot pursuit, hoping to scare them into releasing her. All this comes across in a somewhat droll way like the more deranged moments in Verdi's (1813-1901) Falstaff (1893).

The second disc gives us the last two acts, and begins with a brief eerie prelude. The curtain goes up on a forest scene where there's a threatening wasps' nest hanging on a bush. A meeting of conjurors is underway headed by Simon [D-2, T-1], who delivers a creepy aria full of superstitious tenets to his fellow shamans, who dutifully reply "Tis true, 'tis true, We all believe 'tis true".

Suddenly to cries of "Hee, hoo!", which is the conjurors' yell, Zodzetrick and Luddud appear with Treemonisha [D-2, T-2]. The two tell the others she's a threat to their livelihood because she's been telling folks to stop buying the bags of luck they sell. Enraged over this Simon declares she must be punished for it, and despite a plea to the contrary from a young conjuror named Cephus, leads everyone over to that threatening nest.

Some bizarre, ursine comic relief follows as eight bears waltz out of the woods in search of food [D-2, T-3]. Finding none, they growl angrily, and proceed to scratch themselves in time to the music. All of this is vaguely reminiscent of Verdi's ballet sequences.

Then it's back to the conjurors [D-2, T-4] with Simon telling them they must shove Treemonisha into the wasps' nest. But a sinister figure enters, and everyone thinking it's the devil runs away. Actually it's Remus in that scarecrow outfit, which he takes off, and a greatly relieved Treemonisha throws her arm around him. She thanks him in a lovely exchange [D-2, T-5] with a reference to HP [00:18], and they leave in the opposite direction as the conjurors.

After that the scene changes to a wagon road with a field in the background where people are picking cotton. Four of the men then sing an arresting barbershop-like offering "We will rest awhile" with some colorful banjo embellishment [D-2, T-6]. As they finish Remus and Treemonisha enter, find out they're on the right road for the Smith plantation, and continue on their way [D-2, T-7].

Next we hear a horn signaling the end of the workday. The act then concludes with one of the most joyful moments in all of Joplin as the cotton pickers rejoice about heading home [D-2, T-8].

The last act opens with an alternately hopeful and troubled prelude [D-2, T-9] that sets the mood for the first scene with Ned and Monisha in their cabin. They sing a moving duet in which Ned tries to console his wife, who's totally distraught over the abduction of their daughter [D-2, T-10].

Enter Remus, Treemonisha and the villagers along with Zodzetrick and Luddud. They've been taken prisoner, and their hands are tied. This gives rise to a dramatic ensemble number [D-2, T-11] that's initially a jubilant celebration over Treemonisha's safe return with frequent snatches of HP. Then the music turns ominous as the villagers threaten to beat the conjurors for what they've done. However, our heroine intervenes telling them they should never requite evil with evil, but only reprimand and release the two.

With some minor grumbling from the villagers, Andy removes their ropes, and we get a profound lecture sung by Remus. It has the refrain "Wrong Is Never Right" [D-2, T-12] that's repeated like a litany, and picked by the chorus at the end. It may remind you of Wagner's (1813-1883) earlier operas, which is not that surprising considering Joplin had a German music teacher in his younger days (1880-5).

The people then shake their fists at the conjurors, telling them to be good [D-2, T-13], and setting the tone for another sung lecture, this time by Ned [D-2, T-14]. With the title "When villains ramble far and near", it's also Wagnerian, but headed towards Richard Strauss (1864-1949).

After that the opera concludes with three ensemble numbers. In the first the villagers forgive the conjurors, shake their hands, and admonish them to be "kind and true" [D-2, T-15]. It's followed by a melodically sublime second where the people decide they need a leader and choose Treemonisha [D-2, T-16].

The third has the whole cast singing and dancing a Joplin original that's a unique multistep caper titled "A Real Slow Drag" [D-2, T-17]. One of the most infectious numbers you'll ever hear, Treemonisha and Lucy call it in square dance fashion. It ends an American one-of-a-kind operatic masterpiece joyfully, but with a hint of nostalgia.

This definitive performance features soprano Carmen Balthrop (Treemonisha), mezzo-soprano Betty Allen (Monisha), tenor Curtis Rayam (Remus), bass-baritones Willard White (Ned) and Edward Pierson (Parson Alltalk) along with bass Raymond Bazemore (Simon). Credit should also go to soloists Cora Johnson (Lucy), Dorceal Duckens (Luddud), Ben Harney (Zodzetrick), Kenneth Hicks (Andy) and Dwight Ransom (Cephus).

Despite some ambulant vibrato from Ms. Allen, this is a flawless cast! It receives outstanding support from the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra under Gunther Schuller, who was the musical mastermind behind this revivification of the work.

Originally made at RCA's legendary but now defunct Studio A, New York City, the stereo modes present a close, comfortably proportioned soundstage in an optimum venue. The balance between the eleven soloists, chorus and orchestra is well maintained throughout.

There was a stridency in the voices and upper strings on DG's CD version of the opera, but that's less pronounced here particularly on the SACD track. As for the four-channel one, like the early days of stereo, there was a tendency to separate the channels better demonstrating the added front-to-back aspect of the new quadraphonic medium.

Consequently, the sound from the rear is more predominant than is the case with today's discs. This puts the listener on the podium rather than in the audience, which some may find a bit gimmicky. Fortunately it's easily corrected with a little knob-twiddling.

-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150323)

- AVAILABILITY -
ArkivMusic.com hbdirect.com


- RECOMMENDED CLASSICAL MUSIC WEB SITE OUTLETS -
IF YOU OR ANY OF YOUR FRIENDS WOULD LIKE TO BE NOTIFIED WHENEVER THERE'S A NEW CROCKS NEWSLETTER ON CLOFO.COM, JUST CLICK THE E-MAIL ADDRESS BELOW AND LET US KNOW.
McQ@CLOFO.com


- SEE OTHER CLOFO SERVICES -
AUDIOPHILE SELECTIONS BEST FINDS OF LAST YEAR CLOFO HOME PAGE CLOFO RECOMMENDATIONS OTHER CROCKS NEWSLETTERS