CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 APRIL 2015
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 on some.
Brian: Syms 6 "Sinfa Tragica", 28 (Sinfa in c), 29 & 31; Walker/NewRussSt O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Brian: Syms 19, 27, Festal Dance, Sym 5 "Wine of Summer"; Williams/Brabbins/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The revival of English composer Havergal Brian's (1876-1972) music (see 14 May 2012) gains momentum with the releases covered in this recommendation and the "OLD BUT GOLD" one below. The seven symphonies on the two CDs pictured above follow four of his earlier efforts, and are among an additional twenty-eight that represent one of the most amazing creative outpourings in the world of classical music.
What's even more astounding, they were written between the ages of 61 and 92! All are in Brian's later, more concise, wiry style. And except for the sixth, the ones here are the only versions of these rarities currently available on disc.
The Naxos disc to the left [DL], which is the most recent, begins with the single movement, twenty-minute sixth symphony of 1948 marked "Sinfonia Tragica" [DL, T-1]. Falling generally into three sections, the ominous first begins nervously, slowly gathering momentum with what seem like hints of the Dies Irae [02:22] (see 23 February 2015). The music then dissipates via dyspeptic wind passages into a funereal middle episode having a brief central ray of hope.
A percussive brass outburst announces the final part, which is predominantly martial. This includes a light scherzoesque passage, and some heavy ones [17:13], bringing Wagner's (1813-1883) Ride of the Valkyries (1856) to mind. A return to darker moments ends the work in keeping with its subtitle.
Moving ahead almost twenty years we get the 28th and 29th symphonies written in 1967 when the composer was ninety-one. Both Four-movement works, Brian referred to the former as a "divertimento", which he initially titled Sinfonia in C minor.
It begins with a cocky "Moderato" [DL, T-2] full of that Brian volatility. Then after a cursory pause there's a scherzo-like "Grazioso e leggiero" ("Graceful and Light') [DM, T-3] that becomes a lyrical "Andante espressivo" [DL, T-4]. This provides a brief respite, and then erupts into a final explosive "allegretto" [DL, T-5], whose last measures conclude the work in quiet passivity.
Symphony No. 29 starts with a fanfare that introduces a radiant regal thematic nexus [DL, T-6]. This undergoes a chromatic, rhythmically varied development, which leads to a dramatic recap bridging directly into a "lento" [DL, T-7]. At first reserved and pensive, it concludes with a flash of percussive belligerence that ends in a dying sigh. Then after a brief pause we get a scampering allegretto [DL, T8] with chortling winds, which is in essence a scherzo.
Some timpani strokes transition into the finale [DL, T-9], which begins in the same sunny mood as the work's opening. But dark clouds soon roll in as the music turns threatening. Then they mysteriously dissipate, and the work ends with a last glow of optimism.
In less than a year Brian would write his 30th and 31st symphonies (1968), the latter being the final selection on this invaluable Naxos disc of discovery. In one thirteen-minute movement [DL, T-10], it must rank as one of the twentieth-century's shortest in the genre.
After three taps on the timpani, we get the predominant motif, which is simply the first four notes of a descending scale (FN) [00:02]. This is the DNA of an imaginative fantasia, showing that even at age ninety-one Brian's creative juices were still flowing.
The music falls into several arches, the first being a pixilated exploration of FN that builds to a climax that suddenly ends. It's succeeded by a pensive section [01:35], then a rustic episode [03:03] and a whimsical passage [05:55], which becomes flirtatious with a lovely violin solo [07:22].
After that we get some FN-related, big tune pronouncements [08:07, 08:43 and 10:06], and then a quiet pastoral thought with soothing wind solos [10:53]. This builds to an FN-based peroration [12:22], concluding the symphony forcefully.
The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra (NRSSO) makes an impressive CLOFO debut here under conductor Alexander Walker (see 7 November 2012). He gets committed, dynamic performances from the NRSSO, whose members dispatch the many demanding solos in these kaleidoscopic works with great aplomb.
The recordings, which were made last year in Studio 5 of the Russian State TV & Radio Company, Moscow, are excellent. They project a robust soundstage in an ideally resonant acoustic. Brian's scoring for large orchestras with extensive percussion sections make for a most impressive sonic image.
The instrumental timbre is characterized by argent highs, a commanding midrange, and pronounced but clean bass that goes down to rock bottom. Audiophiles will find this a demonstration quality disc. Perspicacious listeners will notice a fleeting edit dropout in the thirty-first symphony [DR, T-10; 01:34].
Turning to the Dutton disc on the right [DR], the twenty-minute, single movement fifth symphony of 1937 [DR, T-2] is a setting of Lord Alfred Douglas' (1870-1945) poem "Wine of Summer" (1890s; the album notes include the text). For solo voice (a baritone here) and orchestra, it's like a cantata in three adjoining arches that span the first four, next two, and last pair of the eight verses. Yet there's a sense of organization and underlying unity that justify its designation as a symphony.
In the pastoral opening the soloist remembers a warm summer day in the forest [00:01], where he lies down, savoring nature's beautiful overlying canopy [03:14]. He recalls the comely overgrown path by which he came [05:00], and goes on to wax poetic about his "imaginings" [07:06], which include references to lutes and flutes are mimicked by the orchestra.
After a brief pause, the next section finds him comparing the foregoing to a cup of wine that's been an anodyne to his present woeful state [09:21]. He goes on to sing about past golden memories, which are now "Beneath the waters of forgotten things" [10:42]. Then there's a reference to old loves that burned like fierce red kings, which occasions a bellicose outburst from the orchestra.
Hostilities abate, and the final arch begins with our soloist describing the descent of night [14:11], and an end to happier times. In the last verse beginning "Gone are the passion and the pulse..." [16:32], he anticipates a joyless, increasingly dark future. Then this flowery, conflicted ode concludes with the puzzling line "Far off I hear Night calling to the sea" accompanied by crashing chordal breakers.
Moving ahead twenty-five to thirty years we get the solely instrumental, three-movement symphonies nineteen (1961) and twenty-seven (1966-7). Brian was 86 when he penned the earlier one, which has a divertimento informality that makes it immediately appealing, and presages his twenty-eighth (see above). The informative album notes tell us there are allusions to themes in his Gothic Symphony (No. 1, 1919-27).
Adhering to a fast-slow-fast schema, the initial allegro [DR, T-3] is an obstreperous march. It surrounds a couple of pensive melodic passages, and ends with an exhausted moan from the low brass.
The slow movement [DR-T-4] is a rhapsodic river that ebbs and flows around a couple of bizarre dancelike outcroppings. The first of these [02:00] includes a strange mix of harp, timpani, euphonium and tuba.[02:37], while the other [04:09] has a more conventional passage for flute and harp [04:36]. The movement then ends in a winsome subdued coda with soothing woodwind solos [07:02].
The finale is a cheeky percussively ornamented rondo with constant rhythmic twists and turns [DR, T-5]. It's filled with an adolescent rebelliousness that shows Brian was still young at heart, and ends the work jubilantly.
The twenty-seventh symphony (1966-7) was written when Brian was 91 years young. The first few measures of the opening movement [DR, T-6] limn what seems like a peaceful pastoral scene where flute solos could be a forest bird's happy song. But this is cut short by a timpanic interjection that introduces an elaboration and development of the foregoing with extensive "flutework".
The music is alternately rhapsodic and troubled, working itself at a couple of points into percussion-laced, Brian tantrums. The last of these then suddenly subsides into a melodic coda, which brings things to an uneventful conclusion.
The next movement [DR, T-7] is a lovely relaxed reverie with an underlying repeated rhythm that gives it the aspect of a passacaglia (see 30 March 2015). Dissonant notes on the celesta along with muted horns end it on another world.
The final allegro [DR, T-8] is a fascinating interplay between animated brilliantly scored passages, and dramatic chromatically searching ones. Towards the end the flute returns introducing a modified version of the first movement's closing measures, thereby unifying the symphony.
The initial selection on this disc entitled Festal Dance [DR, T-1] needs a word of explanation. Moreover, Brian completed a four movement programmatic symphony in 1908 that had comic associations with the old nursery rhyme "Three Blind Mice". Then for some reason he withdrew it, destroying the inner movements, and reworking the outer two as independent pieces.
The opening one was transformed into Fantastic Variations on an old Rhyme -- shades of Josef Holbrooke (1878-1958, see 31 July 2009). The last became Festal Dance.
It's a triumphant tarantella for the farmer's wife, who's just docked those aggressive rodents with a carving knife! There's a central fughetta whose main subject is derived from the tune underlying "They all ran after the farmer's wife" [02:43], and frequent reminders of the song's first three descending notes [03:49, etc.]. Touches like these are good examples of the skill and ingenuity with which Brian structured his music.
Baritone Roderick Williams, whom we've lauded before (see 8 February 2012), delivers a beautifully sung "Wine of Summer". He receives strong support from British conductor Martyn Brabbins and the Royal Sottish National Orchestra (RSNO), who continue their survey for Dutton of Brian's symphonies (see 31 August 2011). As before their spirited performances perfectly capture the essence of Havergal's capricious style.
The recordings were done at the RSNO Center, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, and project a broad, deep soundstage in a lively acoustic. Mr. Williams' voice is realistically captured and balanced against the orchestra as are the many solo instrumental passages. The orchestral timbre is clear with bright highs, a sparkling midrange, and clean low bass much in evidence with Brian's frequent use of percussion.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y150430, P150429)
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Graener: Orch Wks V3 (Pno Conc, Sinfta, Divert…, 3 Swedish Dances); Triendl/Francis/MunR O [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This is the third volume in CPO's ongoing survey of German composer Paul Graener's (1872-1944) orchestral music (see 12 March 2014). These are the only recordings of the four works presented here currently available on disc.
The program opens with his only piano concerto, which was probably written around 1925. In three movements, which follow a fast-slow-fast layout, the initial allegro [T-1] begins with a highly infectious bouncy theme for the orchestra that's picked up by the soloist. A contemplative related countermelody follows, and the two undergo an engaging contrapuntally spiced exploration. A manic recap and coda follow ending the movement excitedly.
A singing melody is the lifeblood of the rhapsodic adagio [T-2], which is the work's emotional core. Then the vivacity that characterized the work's opening returns in a frenzied final allegro [T-3]. A tarantella-like moment, it could almost be out of Respighi (1879-1936). While the concerto has no cadenzas per se, the composer makes up for it in this scampering, knuckle-busting finale. It ends the work with a lightheartedness that's more Latin than Teutonic.
Based on a long lost string quartet, the single movement Sinfonietta for strings and harp [T-4] was probably written sometime between 1905 and 1908. It's a deeply felt piece that was composed in memory of Graener's young son who died in 1904 at age eight. The score is headed with German poet Ludwig Uhland's (1787-1862) Auf den Tod eines Kindes (On the Death of a Child, 1859; see the album notes), which sets the tone of this threnody.
In several adjoining arches, the first [00:00] begins nostalgically with a lovely theme of presumably happier days. This becomes increasingly grave concluding in a tragic outburst that could represent the child's passing [05:54]. A grief-stricken episode with wisps of what might be fond remembrances follows [06:12], and ends mournfully with sympathetic harp embellishments.
The mood brightens briefly [10:08], only to transition into a resigned sorrowful episode with heavenly moments [12:09]. Then there's a sublime epilogue having celestial violin solos [17:30]. It concludes the work with a feeling of devout reconciliation, reflecting the poem's last line "From God's hand into God's hand".
Continuing in a lighter vein we get a set of Drei Schwedische Tänze (Three Swedish Dances, c. 1932). All are in A-B-A form, and each is named after a Swedish province, presumably indicating its origin. There's a classical simplicity about the first "Lappland" ("Lapland") [T-5] that's most appealing.
The second "Östergöth" ("Östergötland") [T-6] is for the most part a tripping number, but with a weighty central episode that brings to mind the Mountain King music in Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907) Peer Gynt (1875-92). It's offset by a final stately dance titled "Dalekarlien" ("Dalarna") [T-7] that ends the set ceremoniously.
The five movement Divertimento für kleines Orchester (Divertimento for Small Orchestra, c. 1924) fills out this release. There's a refreshing informality about it right from the start of the opening allegro [T-8], which features a couple of fetching themes.
The succeeding allegretto scherzando [T-9] begins with a timpani-accented, swaying ditty embellished with some pizzicato and contrapuntal elements. It becomes wirier with trumpet solos, and after a reminder of the opening measures, ends perfunctorily.
A moving larghetto is next [T-10] where the winds and strings engage in a lovely romantic serenade. Then we get another allegretto [T-11], but this time with folksy dancelike outer sections surrounding a lyrical episode having amorous overtones.
It's a perfect contrast to the final allegro [T-12], which is the most forceful part of the work. Here numerous brass and woodwind solos add a venatic aspect to the movement. Then a bassoon initiated wind fugato gives way to a rollicking finale that concludes the divertimento joyously.
We've sung pianist Oliver Triendl's praises before (see 8 September 2014), and once again he's in top form giving us a sparkling performance of Graener's rarely heard concerto. He receives admirable support from conductor Alun Francis, who's been an invaluable champion of rare repertoire, and the Munich Radio Orchestra. Maestro Francis also elicits sensitive, immaculately crafted performances of the other three selections.
A coproduction of CPO and Bavarian Radio (BR), the recordings were made in 2011-2 at BR's Studio 1, Munich, and project a robust sonic image in pleasantly reverberant surroundings. The balance between soloist and orchestra is good, and the instrumental timbre generally acceptable. However, there is some "digitalitis" in the piano's upper registers and forte upper string passages. But with music this engaging most will soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150428)
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Isasi: Cpte Stg Qt Wks V3 (1, 5 & Vn Son); Zabaleta/Isasi Qt [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Naxos' well-received survey of Spanish composer Andrés Isasi's (1891-1940) complete works for string quartet concludes with this third volume. Those who found the previous ones (see 13 January 2014) rewarding romantic discs of discovery will definitely want it! As an added attraction this release also includes his one and only violin sonata. All of these selections are world premiere recordings.
Both quartets are in four movements, and the concert begins with Andrés' youthful effort of 1910-1. The version done here incorporates the composer's revised third movement of 1914. Although he numbered it as his first quartet, to avoid any confusion we should point out there's an earlier one from 1908 that's been posthumously designated as No. 0 (see 12 September 2012).
Isasi studied with Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921, see 25 April 2012) in Berlin (1909-14), and this quartet is dedicated to his daughter, whom he met frequently at his instructor's home. There's a touch of his teacher's fairy tale music in the leisurely opening allegro [T-1], which begins with a couple of relaxed themes. These are subjected to a variational development that ends the movement tenderly.
This mood prevails in the moving romantic andante [T-2]. Its outer sections are quite similar, and spiced with a touch of pizzicato. They enclose a contrasting, emotionally distraught episode, and end the movement much like it began.
The intermezzo that follows [T-3] injects an antic scherzoesque element into the work. It's a cheeky bit of writing that recalls Brahms (1833-1897) in his more folksy moments. Then the quartet ends with a sonata form allegro [T-4] having two contrasting ideas that are respectively dance (D) and hymnlike (H).
A terse fugato then introduces a clever development where these are harmonically juggled. There are some more fleeting contrapuntal manipulations, and the movement ends with a solemn recap of H, and final D-based, devil-may-care coda.
Moving right along we get the fifth quartet (1921) whose initial sonata form allegro [T-5] starts off with a restless idea succeeded by a related songlike melody (S). These undergo a chromatically searching development that brings to mind Richard Strauss (1864-1949), whom Isasi greatly admired. A recap of the opening subjects follows, and the movement concludes tranquilly with remembrances of S.
The adagio [T-6] is a pensive aria with sorrowful moments, and the allegretto [T-7] a curt scherzo. The latter anticipates the final allegro [T-8] that's based on two related motifs, which are respectively commanding and submissive. These become the topics of a conversation among the four instruments. The first subject increasingly dominates the discussion, and ends the work definitively.
With this Naxos concludes their survey of these undeservedly forgotten quartets, and to fill out the disc they give us the composer's violin sonata of 1917. In three movements, it's an interesting hybrid creation with Basque-flavored thematic material structured along the lines of Richard Strauss.
The first sonata form allegro [T-9] has a bravura introduction followed by a simple folklike tune for the violin. This is explored by the piano, after which the violin presents a more expansive lyrical countersubject. The jaunty development that follows includes a demanding cadenza for the violin. Then the two themes reappear in a rhapsodic recapitulation, which ends the movement uneventfully.
In the middle "Romance" [T-10] the piano and violin sing an amorous duet based on an undulating melody. But the composer interjects a couple of brief harmonically agitated passages that preclude this from becoming a romantic wallow, and hint at the final allegro.
The latter [T-11] is again in sonata form, and opens with a severe rhythmically angular motif. A relaxed, related theme follows, after which they undergo a saucy development with a splash of violin cadenza. Then there's a big tune recap and coda that end the sonata dramatically.
As before we have the Isasi Quartet's violist Karsten Dobers to thank for revising and completing the composer's original manuscripts, thereby making these performances possible. He along with the other members of the ensemble make a strong case for this music, giving us highly polished, moving accounts of these works. The Isasi's first violinist Anna Bohigas along with pianist Marta Zabaleta deserve a big round of applause for their beautifully played interpretation of the sonata.
The quartet recordings were made by the identical personnel and at the same location (Château d’Arcangues in the Aquitaine region of France) as the previous releases. Once again they project an up-front sonic image in a dry acoustic. While the strings are bright, clear and well balanced, they'd be more natural sounding had there been a feeling of more space around each of the performers.
The sonata was recorded four years later at the Arriaga Conservatory Auditorium, Bilbao, Spain. The soundstage on this location is ideal, and the surroundings warmer. However, both instruments suffer from some upper end graininess in louder passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150427)
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Jongen: Tableaux..., Sarabande…, Ste (va & orch), Pages…; Braude/Haeck/RLiège PO [MusEnWal]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Belgian composer Joseph Jongen (1873-1953) makes a welcome return to these pages (see 15 November 2013), with this new Musique En Wallonie release. Forced to flee his home country when Germany invaded it at the start of World War I (WWI; 1914-8), he and his family moved to England, where all of the pieces on this CD were written. Three of them as done here are the only recordings currently available on disc, and are accordingly marked "OCAR" after their titles.
The program begins with Tableaux pittoresques (Quaint Pictures, OCAR)) of 1917, which Jongen dedicated to Belgium's Queen Elisabeth (1876-1965). In four movements the initial "Le matin dans la campagne" ("Morning in the Country") [T-1] begins with a winsome pastoral melody where the strings evoke soft spring breezes. Then we hear the chirping of early morning birds, while the horns could represent the golden rays of the rising sun. This idyllic setting then concludes quietly.
The following "Danses" [T-2] is brilliantly orchestrated with a quiet opening for flute and harp reminiscent of Bizet (1838-1875). This suddenly gives way to a vivacious passage of Debussy (1862-1918) persuasion. It has busy outer sections that surround a more contemplative episode, and end the movement excitedly.
Next there's a quiet nature study entitled "Paysage de montagnes" ("Mountain Landscape") [T-3]. This conjures up images of snowcapped peaks surrounding lush green valleys. It puts the listener at ease before the final celebratory "Fête populaire" ("Folk Festival") [T-4], whose opening also brings Debussy to mind.
But not for long as we get a couple of themes that presage Jongen's ever popular Symphonie concertante for organ and orchestra (1926, see 26 March 2010). These are explored, and the music dies away only to return with renewed vigor, ending the work exultantly.
The orchestral version of Sarabande triste (Sorrowful Saraband; 1918, OCAR), which began as a solo piano piece, follows [T-5]. Apparently based on the melody for the Gregorian plainsong Te Deum, it conveys feelings of thanks for an end to WWI. However, there are passages reminiscent of Ravel's (1875-1937) Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess; 1899, orch. 1910), which impart an element of grief for all the victims of that conflict.
In London the composer met the great English violist Lionel Tertis (see 10 November 2014), who encouraged him to write something for viola and orchestra. This resulted in the two movement Suite pour alto et orchestre of 1915. The opening "Poème élégiaque" [T-6] is an attractive rhapsodic outpouring for the soloist. There are soothing complementary passages for the horn and woodwinds, in which Debussy once again comes to mind.
The concluding "Finale" [T-7] gets off to a running start with some of those open-ended chordal sequences that are a Jongen trademark [00:26]. The soloist then launches into a bouncy theme that undergoes an excited tutti exploration. After that we get a darker, subdued second melody from the viola, and the first idea returns as the subject of a fugue. This builds to a spectacular climax, giving way to some virtuosic passages for the soloist.
A pastoral respite follows succeeded by a passionate episode for the viola leading to an exciting orchestral outburst. Then there's a dramatic pause, and the soloist engages in some virtuosic passagework. This is followed by a joyful peroration for everyone, ending the suite jubilantly.
The concluding selection is the orchestral version of Pages intimes (Intimate Pages"; 1918, OCAR), which consists of three short selections that were originally for piano (1917). Jongen dedicated this to his children, and it has an affinity with Debussy's pieces for the young (see 10 March 2011), as well as Ravel's Ma mère l'oye (Mother Goose; 1908, orch. 1911; see 9 April 2014).
The first "Il était une fois" ("Once Upon a Time") [T-8] is a charming impressionistic lullaby with immediate appeal. "Dansez Mizelle" ("Dance for Mizelle") [T-9] honoring one of the composer's daughters is an innocent captivating waltz.
The last page entitled "Le Bon Chîval" ("The Good Horse") [T-10]] with its circular melody and jogging rhythm is a most infectious creation. It may have been inspired by French poet Paul Verlaine's (1844-1896) unnamed, merry-go-round-related verse that begins "Tournez, tournez bons chevaux de bois" ("Turn, turn, good horses of wood", 1872).
With a growing reputation as one of today's most promising up-and-coming artists, Belgian-Israeli violist Nathan Braude gives a stirring account of the suite. He receives admirable support from the Royal Liege Philharmonic Orchestra under Belgian conductor Jean-Pierre Haeck, all of whom make a strong case for these little-known works.
Made in Philharmonic Hall, Liège, Belgium, the recordings project a wide, deep sonic image in a reverberant acoustic. Accordingly the soundstage borders on cavernous, but the viola remains well balanced against the orchestra throughout the suite.
Jongen's colorful scoring favors higher ranging instruments, and as recorded here this results in sound with a bright upper end and sparkling midrange. As far as the bass response goes, don't expect the profundity present in Brian's symphonic music (see the recommendations above and below). That said, those with speaker systems that go down to rock bottom may notice some persistent low disturbances that may be HVAC-related.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150426)
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Woyrsch: Sym 3, 3 Böcklin-Phantasien (orch ste); Dorsch/OldenSt O [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Almost three years ago CPO introduced us to German composer Felix Woyrsch's (1860-1944) orchestral music (see 27 August 2012). Now here's a follow-up release with another of his six numbered symphonies and an earlier programmatic suite. These are the only recordings of either currently available on disc.
The concert starts with his third symphony (c. 1928), which is in the usual four movements. The first "Bewegt, doch nicht übereilt" ("Agitated, but not hasty") [T-1] opens despondently with a melancholy trumpet call accompanied by weeping winds and strings. The music then becomes increasingly agitated, building in stages à la Mahler (1860-1911) to a tragic climax.
This is followed by a drumroll, shimmering strings, and a powerful funeral march with references to the Dies Irae [04:56] (see the Brian recommendations above). The foregoing is then food for thought in an introspective central section, which builds to a forceful recap. This quickly fades into subdued reminders of the movement's first measures, ending it much like it began.
A scherzo marked "Mäßig schnell" ("Moderately fast") comes next [T-2]. It gets off to a demonic start with a chugging ogreish motif (CO) that's explored, and succeeded by a lovely contrasting trio with celestial wind, harp and violin passages. Then CO returns, and after a strange prolonged pause becomes the subject of a fugal coda that ends the movement forcefully.
The ghost of Brahms (1833-1897) pervades the next "Langsam" ("Slowly") [T-3], which seems to be of two minds. On one level it's nostalgic, but there are frequent ominous interjections that give it a somewhat threatening aspect.
Marked "Lebhaft und feurig, doch nicht zu schnell" ("Lively and spirited, but not too fast"), the finale [T-4] starts with valiant flourishes along the lines of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) heroic tone poems. A couple of attractive themes follow, and undergo an initially restrained development that becomes contrapuntally agitated and then whimsical. It gives way to a jubilant recap with a big tune coda that brings the symphony to a triumphant ending.
This disc closes with a programmatic orchestral suite titled Drei Böcklin-Phantasien (Three Böcklin Fantasies, 1910). One of composer's most effecting orchestral works, it's a triptych of "symphonic atmospheric pictures", to use his own words, after Swiss artist Arnold Böcklin's (1827-1901) paintings.
The opening one, "Die Toteninsel" ("The Isle of the Dead") [T-5], has inspired several classical works, the foremost being Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) homonymous symphonic poem (1909). It's also one of Max Reger's (1873-1916) Four Tone Poems after A. Böcklin, 1913). As a matter of fact Max may have gotten the idea for his piece from Felix considering another two of his are the same as Woyrsch's.
Be that as it may, the Woyrsch begins with moribund sighs that build to a terrifying climax, which could connote "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." This fades into some final death rattles, and then the work closes with passages of such rigidity as to suggest a state of rigor mortis.
The mood turns more sanguine with "Der Heremit" ("The Hermit") [T-6]. Its restful rustic opening perfectly catches the mood of the picture's portico setting with the recluse playing his violin. The presence of an eaves-dropping angel is implied by a pious organ accompaniment with tintinnabular strings and winds hinting at church bells.
But the concert is interrupted by a fugato flight of cherubs who usher in a couple of brief chorale-like utterances. Then our soloist resumes his playing, and the poem ends reverentially with a swelling tutti chord.
Finally we get "Im Spiel der Wellen" ("Playing in the Waves") [T-7], which begins with expansive brass flourishes, invoking images of the sea god Triton blowing his horn. After that the music becomes sportive, and it's easy to picture Nereids surrounded by libidinous Tritones with more than a game of tag on their minds! The buxom sea maids give them a merry chase, and seemingly swim away to be pursued another day.
As before the performances by the Oldenburg State Orchestra under German conductor Thomas Dorsch are excellent (see 27 August 2012). His careful attention to phrasing and dynamics make a convincing case for some little-known works that in lesser hands might come off as more ordinary fare. Woyrisch couldn't have a better advocate.
Once again the recordings were made at the North German Radio's (NDR) large studio in Hannover, and project a bowed soundstage in a warm acoustic. More specifically, the outer strings seem closer than the central part of the orchestra. However, the instrumental timbre is steelier this time around. Woyrsch's scoring for a conventionally sized orchestra and conservative use of percussion result in lean, clean bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150425)
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Brian: Tigers, The (cpte opera); Soloists/Friend/BBCSing/BBC SO [Testament]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (3 CDs)
This stereo studio recording of British composer Havergal Brian's (1876-1972) comic opera The Tigers (1916-29) was made by the BBC and broadcast in 1983. However, for some strange reason it's had to wait until now to make its silver disc debut. But better late than never considering it's one of the most original operatic efforts to come out of the early 1900s!
The libretto by the composer shows a variety of influences ranging from Shakespeare's (1564-1616) plays to the Monty Python's Flying Circus shows (1969-74). Musically it owes something to Berlioz' (1803-1869) Les Troyens (1856-8), Wagner's (1813-1883) Der Meistersinger (1862-7), Mussorgksy's (1839-1881) Sorochintsy Fair (1874-80), the Gilbert (1836-1911) and Sullivan (1842-1900; see 10 November 2014) collaborations, and even Edwardian (1901-14) Music Hall fare.
The score calls for massive forces that include a cast of some thirty soloists supported by a huge chorus and orchestra augmented with all sorts of unusual extras, i.e., bugle, euphonium, long drum, thunder machine, sleigh as well as fire bells, ship's siren, car horn, harmonica, two vibraphones, tubaphone, organ, and an additional tuba quartet. The unusual instrumentation brings to mind works by the likes of Erik Satie (1866-1925), Edgard Varèse (1883-1965) and George Antheil (1900-1959; 14 May 2014).
The album documentation is superb. In addition to the complete text there's a detailed plot synopsis and must read history of the work by Brian authority Malcolm MacDonald (1948-2014; see 6 October 2014). Consequently you'll find everything you ever wanted to know about it, and then some!
Set in 1914, it's a send-up of British army life triggered by the composer's World War I (1914-8) military experiences (1914-5) -- he was eventually discharged for flat feet! And speaking of feet, Brian marches to a different beat in his structuring of this opera. To wit, there are two prologues followed by three acts with a twenty-minute ballet between the last two.
The curtain goes up on a raucous Carnival scene with street venders selling their wares [D-1, T-1]. We soon find out there's a war going on, and every man under seventy-five is wanted [D-1, T-2]. This leads to a short "War! War! War!" chorus [D-1, T-3], after which the woodwinds introduce a theme based on the tune for the then popular music hall song "Has Anybody Here Seen Kelly?" [D-1, T-4].
A series of variations on that follow (see 14 May 2012), during which a couple of policemen enter searching for a missing young man. He also appears, and manages to lose them among all the street merchants.
After that things really get bizarre as a tall swarthy man with large earrings leads in a huge elephant ridden by an elegantly dressed, chubby-faced fellow [D-1, T-5]. Suffice to say great confusion ensues as the venders try to sell them everything under the sun. Then the town crier enters, demands all be silent, and gives a description of the person the police are looking for [D-1, T-6].
Next a photographer comes on stage, and with great difficulty takes pictures of a fashionably dressed group of folks [D-1, T-7]. All the while the Kelly variations continue, during which the photographer exits with his subjects.
That "missing person" then reappears, and has an exchange with an old clothes seller hawking carnival costumes. Consequently he decides to get one with the idea of disguising himself from the police. He then chooses an outfit for the commedia dell'arte character Pantalone, called Pantalon here (see 6 October 2014). Shortly thereafter the curtain comes down on the first prologue.
The second finds the carnival in full swing at night, teeming with dancers, who include Pantalon and a girl dressed as the commedia dell'arte's Columbine [D-1, T-8]. There's also a carousel with hobbyhorses whirling around to an increasingly frenetic orchestral accompaniment. The final bars hint at Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries (1856) [08:42], which also surfaces in Brian's sixth symphony (see above).
A constable then comes in ordering everyone to go home [D-1, T-9]. He follows them off stage, but Pantalon and Columbine manage to avoid his notice and remain. They sing a love duet [D-1, T-10] in which we learn she's married to one of the merchants. Despite that Pantalon convinces her to elope with him. This concludes the prologue where except for the war and policemen there's nothing in the scenario related to the rest of the opera.
The opening of Act I takes place in front of a drop curtain showing a row of houses, and starts with militaristic orchestral murmurings [D-1, T-11]. Then a variety of characters, which include clergymen, chic dames, aristocratic gentlemen, laborers, bag ladies, and even an organ grinder with a monkey [02:20], come on stage and sing an animated chorus.
The back drop then rises revealing the interior of a large railway station. Crowds have gathered to bid a farewell to a British battalion of recruits known as "The Tigers", who are about to entrain [D-1, T-12] for the war. Brian works all this into a dashing ensemble number with marvelous exchanges between the various groups (there are twenty-one vocal lines) and terrific choruses.
Then the Regimental Sergeant Major calls the Tigers to attention [D-1, T13] for an address by their commander. He's Colonel Sir John Stout, who's well named as he was a brewmaster in civilian life.
His aria is amusing both from the standpoint of its content and delivery. Full of pompous platitudes that include warning his men not to run after petticoats, it's sung astride a restless horse, resulting in some comical shaky vibrato. Nevertheless, the assembled crowd of well-wishers cheer his vacuous exhortations. The act ends as they send the battalion off with a triumphant "Long live the Tigers!" and last "Hurrah!"
The opening scene of the second act takes place at midnight in the Colonel's bedroom, and begins with an agitated orchestral prelude [D-2, T-1]. We see him tossing and turning in his bunk as he experiences four oneiric visitations.
The first three are from an American Indian [D-2, T-2], Alexander the Great [D-2, T-3] and Napoleon [D-2, T-4], who indicate he'll be successful on the battlefield. The fourth is from his wife, Lady Stout, who sings an aria with funny reference to clothes-related issues including Sir John's being hard on his underwear [D-2, T-5]! She also cautions him not to chase after the ladies, noting he's an old man, which brings to mind Sir John Falstaff in Shakespeare's plays. A short fitful orchestral afterthought ends the scene.
The next one takes place the following morning. We see a military parade ground with the assembled Tiger Battalion, and behind them a long stone building with a clock tower and woods on either. In back of that there's the Castle of Mont Duresco, which is their base of operations.
A short animated orchestral prelude [D-2, T-6] ends with the clock striking nine, and entrance of Sir John. In another of his fatuous arias [D-2, T-7] we learn of an upcoming sham battle between the Tigers and a famous battalion known as the Hornets. He then encourages his men to win the day, after which the curtain falls as they march off.
The opera resumes with a pastoral orchestral interlude [D-2, T-8] hinting at the melodies for "Yankee Doodle" and "Home! Sweet Home!". This is followed by a scene in the woods, where we get an ensemble number for a Bishop along with a group of fashionable ladies and gentlemen, whom he tells about his days as a Tiger [D-2, T-9]. One of them is an overdressed woman by the name of Pamela Freebody.
After that the Colonel enters [D-2, T-10], and is introduced to Pamela by the Bishop, which leads to a brief exchange about the Tigers. After that Sir John leaves followed by the others, and we suddenly hear a cry of "Charge!" from offstage as the "Tigers" attack the Hornets [D-2, T-11]. There are orchestral references to Richard Strauss (1864-1949) Ein Heldenleben (A Hero's Life, 1897-8) [00:01], and then a group of farm hands that include some lovely young women rush in.
They proceed to describe the Hornet's rout of the Tigers, some of whom run on stage. Seeing the lovely farm maids, they quickly forget the battle, and socialize with them in an animated choral promenade and dance [D-2, T-12]. But the battalion's Sergeant Major appears [D-2, T-13], bitterly berating and marching them off as the curtain falls.
Then there's an ethereal offstage "La la la la..." chorus [D-2, T-14], and the curtain goes up on the earlier parade ground setting. The Colonel, Sergeant Major and Tigers are assembled center stage, while the Bishop along with his party plus the farm hands are to each side.
There's a blustery orchestral outburst, and Sir John takes his men to task for their disgraceful behavior even in a mock battle [D-2, T-15]. He's told by the Sergeant that those standing in a group nearby are under arrest for cavorting with the farm maids.[D-2, D-16].
There are some further trite remarks from the Colonel [D-2, T-17], which include the line "they who fight and run, live to fight again." The Tigers respond to that with a volley of alliterative "Hip-p-p-p... Hurrahs!", and the act ends with more "Hurrahs!" from everyone.
The entr'acte ballet that's next is oddball Brian that's dreamlike and would be perfectly suited to one of today's multimedia stage presentations. The curtain goes up on the first of its two parts entitled "Gargoyles" [D-3, T-1], revealing the inside of a police station at night with all the officers asleep.
This morphs into a couple of Gothic cathedral towers beset with grinning gargoyles that slowly come to life, leave their towers, and do a midnight march macabre (see 31 July 2012) around the stage. The music becomes more intense with lots of percussion, and fire shoots from their mouths. Then this choreographic fantasy ends quietly as they return to their starting positions.
One of the towers in moonlight is the setting for part two. Marked "Lacryma (Tears of Sorrow)" [D-3, T-2], it's even more inscrutable than "Gargoyles". The music is at first buoyant with a couple of mournful passages as we see the Virgin circled by a band of flying angels, who look at her and weep. She turns, puts her hands out as if appealing to someone in the distance for some unknown reason, and the angels follow suit. The mood then becomes pious as they all bow their heads, the light fades, and the curtain descends. Figure that out!
It's back to the police station for the first scene of Act III, which begins with the flute imitating a ringing telephone [D-3, T-3]. We then learn from a couple of one-sided phone conversations involving the Police Sergeant in charge that he thinks he hears it's the Tigers' birthday, and there's an impending German Zeppelin raid. Consequently all lights must be put out within fifty miles of the coast, and the Tigers are to guard a nearby river bridge.
In an amusingly officious number [D-3, T-4] the Sergeant orders his policemen to stop clocks and trains, silence barking dogs, empty pubs, and turn out all lights. He also charges them to interdict traffic across the bridge, which is the setting for the next scene.
Pictured with an inn to one side and houses in the background, there's an opening "Adagio" featuring unruly winds [D-3, T-5], after which a constable chases some rowdy imbibers out of the inn [D-3, T-6]. Then Pamela enters asking for directions to Mont Duresco (see above) [D-3, T-7]. We learn she wants to call on the Colonel, who miraculously appears.
Remember that car horn (see above)? It announces the arrival of a vehicle [01:22] with a female driver, who's indignant over being stopped, and told to put her lights out. She does so, and Sir John steps forward with Pamela. They sing a duet in which we learn she's also married, but despite that it gets more and more amorous as they become increasingly intimate. The Colonel goes on in typical flowery fashion to tell her about himself and his glorious relationship with the Tigers.
All the while lights are going on and off in the house windows, and we hear the police running frantically between them presumably in Keystone Cops fashion, yelling "Put out that light." Then we see the outline of Mont Duresco Castle [D-3, T-8], and hear a tattoo [00:55] summoning the Tigers to their quarters. Sir John tells Pamela he must return, but arranges for another assignation with her the following night.
The third scene [D-3, T-9] is a bit of comic relief. As the curtain rises we see that long building with the clock tower and the castle behind it. The music begins innocently, and then turns furtive as two of the Tigers' cooks appear. One of them surreptitiously climbs the tower and attaches ropes to the clappers hanging from the bells, the idea being to play a practical joke on everyone by ringing them in the middle of the night.
This is just a teaser for the madcap finale [D-3, T-10], which is the same setting as before, but at midnight. We hear those naughty cooks tolling the bells, followed by whooping brass, a blaze of percussion, and someone yelling "Call out the Guard!"
Then all hell breaks loose as fireman arrive believing this is a call for them to put out some sort of conflagration. After that police enter thinking it's a warning about the German Zeppelins. And finally the villagers, some river bargemen, and best of all the Tigers in their pajamas rush on stage. It soon becomes apparent there's no fire or Zeppelins, and the Colonel, who's also in his pajamas, joins the fracas.
Totally bewildered by all this, he calls for the Sergeant Major [D-3, T-11], who informs everyone the police misunderstood the phone call. Moreover, it's not the Tigers' but the Kaiser's birthday, and although Zeppelins are on the way, the lights should be out for only fifteen instead of fifty miles around the coast. As for those damn bells, in typical army fashion he suggests an enquiry to determine whether their ringing resulted from a mechanical malfunction, or was done with malicious intent.
Following that Sir John tells everyone to go to bed [D-3, T-12], but finding out it's not the Tigers' birthday, they sing a short chorus of disgruntlement. This is succeeded by bell-like passages, during which the lights dim, and the policemen escort them out [D-3, T-13], leaving the Colonel alone. Then after an "Aaaaaaah!" of surprise from all backstage, Pamela steps out of the shadows. He greets her with the spoken words, "Dear Pamela", to which she responds in like manner, "Dear Sir John", and the opera ends uneventfully with a peaceful orchestral whimper.
Having a vast cast, we'll just mention the major vocalists, who were among Britain's finest at the time the recording was made. More specifically they include sopranos Teresa Cahill (Pamela), Alison Hargan (Columbine, Lady Stout, Female in Car); tenors Paul Crook (Photographer, Bishop, Cook-2), Harry Nicoll (Pantalon), John Winfield (Old Clothes Seller, Cook-1); baritones Richard Angas (Town crier, Constable, Alexander the Great), Alan Opie (Napoleon), Dennis Wicks (American Indian), Kenneth Woollam (Man on Elephant); along with basses Malcolm Donnelly (Sir John Stout) Eric Shilling (Sergeant Major) and Norman Welsby (Police Sergeant).
All of the above are in fine voice for this Brian lark, and receive magnificent support from the BBC Singers and Symphony Orchestra under conductor Lionel Friend. They did the opera world a great service with this long overdue realization of a twentieth century comic masterpiece. Be sure to read the introductory remarks by the distinguished opera consultant Elaine Padmore, who was the BBC producer, and Maestro Friend.
Originally made at one of the UK's largest recording spaces, BBC's Maida Vale MV1 Studio, London, this Testament first commercial release of the opera projects an immense soundstage commensurate with the prodigious forces involved. In a venue with just the right amount of ambiance, the BBC sound engineers outdid themselves, successfully capturing each of the legion vocal and instrumental soloists, while keeping them ideally balanced against a massive chorus and orchestra.
The overall sound is good with bright highs having a hint of digital grain in complex forte passages, and a natural-sounding midrange. With Brian's love of percussion, particularly the bass drum, the low end goes down to rock bottom with just a touch of overhang. It's too bad this wasn't a hybrid release as the SACD tracks would probably have been demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150424)
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