CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JULY 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.
Andriessen, H.: Orch Wks V3 (Sym 3, Sym Conc,Chantecler Ov); Porcelijn/Neth SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Andriessen, H.: Orch Wks V2 (Sym 2, Ricercare, Mascherata, Wilhelmus van...); Porcelijn/Neth SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Somehow we failed to cover CPO's second volume in their ongoing revival of Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen's (1892-1981) orchestral works (see 20 March 2013). But better late than never, and as an added bonus we'll also tell you about the recently released third installment. These are the only currently available recordings on disc of the selections on either CD.
The latest release pictured to the left [DL] begins with the third of his four symphonies. Completed in 1946 there's a structural diversity and programmatic feel to it more like a suite. That's also reflected in the captions for each of the four movements, which are names of musical forms rather than the usual Italian tempo markings.
The initial "Ouverture" [DL, T-1] starts with harp and high strings introducing a reserved airy episode (RA). This has a captivating seven-note theme for the brass [00:05] reminiscent of the one opening Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) A Sea Symphony (No.1, 1903-9), and builds into a forceful, timpani-accented statement (FT).
RA and FT become the subjects of a moving development that closes with a hesitant angular motif (HA) [05:02], which will be the central idea for the next movement. HA is followed by an explosive snatch of FT [05:18] that fades away to end the "Ouverture" despondently.
A convulsive outburst begins the following "Sonata" [DL-T-2], which is in essence a modified sonata form scherzo built around HA. It's a high energy offering that never rests, and closes with a surprise demonstrative flourish [06:12].
The succeeding "Sarabande" [DL, T-3] is a sorrowful modern day version of that 16-17th century dance, which became so popular with Baroque composers. Martial trumpet calls make one wonder if Andriessen meant this as a memorial to the victims of World War II (1939-45), which had just ended.
But anguish turns to exhilaration in the final "Fuga" [DL, T-4] that begins with a perky driving first subject [00:00] and a chorale-like second [01:48]. They're worked into a spectacular fugue where one can imagine a surge of determination by the war weary Dutch to build a new and better world. Be that as it may, it's a powerful ending that leaves one with a lasting impression of this work.
Coming some fifteen years later, the next selection is Symphonie concertante (1962). The composer tells us its classical period title reflects his highlighting of instrumental groups rather than individual soloists. In that regard one could consider it a concerto for orchestra, like those pioneered by Hindemith (1895-1963) and Holmboe (1909-1996; see 27 May 2013) in 1925 and 1929.
The first of its three movements opens with barely audible strumming passages [DL, T-5]. They preface a somewhat Eastern-sounding theme (ES) [00:16], which undergoes an energetic development that dominates the movement. It's followed by a curt coda with ES garbed in more stately attire to end the movement heroically.
At almost twice the length of its neighbors, the next one is a theme and variations [DL, T-6], which begins with a searching four-note horn call [00:00]. It's followed by the genial main subject [00:09] based on a tune from Dutch poet-composer Adrianus Valerius' (1575-1625) collection of folk poems and melodies published in 1631 as Nederlandische gedenck-clanck (Dutch Songs of Commemoration).
Seven of the next eight variations are modelled after 18th century dance forms beginning with a courtly gavotte [00:56], jaunty saraband [01:27], regal bourée [02:27], and melancholy pavane [03:16]. Then we get a change of pace with the fifth and longest variant that's an amorous aria for violin with harp accompaniment [04:21]. After that a gliding minuet [07:49], syncopated passepied [08:51] and dynamic polonaise [09:41] bring things to a close.
The final movement's [DL, T-7] introspective opening quickly gives way to some robust timpani-reinforced thematic material. This turns pensive only to reappear with renewed vigor in an episode that concludes the piece in a charging, high energy coda worthy of Hindemith.
Last but not least we get Hendrik's Chantecler Overture (1972) [DL, T-8] inspired by French playwright Edmond Rostand's (1868-1918) eponymous comedy (1910). Presaging George Orwell's (1903-1950) Animal Farm (1943-4), it's a satire whose characters are all farm animals. But here it's the modernistic artistic doctrines of Rostand's time rather than political matters that are under attack.
The composer tells us this is not program music, but the placid pastoral opening [00:01] might well represent sunrise. The ensuing trumpet call [01:23] is almost certainly the main protagonist, who's a rooster named Chantecler, crowing at the break of dawn. There are also plucky passages [02:06] suggesting chickens scratching around, and chortling winds [02:19] implying awakening livestock.
Chantecler continues announcing his presence over the other barnyard banter, and then the music dies away [05:27] presumably as day ends. But the composer can't resist another of his timpani-spiked outbursts [05:45] to conclude the overture ostentatiously.
This release and the first two in the series feature the same artists, and all of the recordings were done between 2011 and 2013 by the identical production staff at one location (see 20 March 2013). Consequently comments regarding the performances and sound will be found at the end of this article.
The previous volume pictured to the right [DR] begins with the second symphony of 1937. French influences are dominant, reflecting the composer's visits to Paris in the 1920s. More specifically, it has a structural rigor reminiscent of Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931; see 30 June 2015), and bitonality like that found in Darius Milhaud (1892-1974; see 17 February 2007), both of whom he knew there. That said, there's a cinematic sense of drama that pervades all three of movements, which like those in the third symphony (see above) are named for musical forms.
The first "Fantasia" [DR, T-1] seems descriptive of some unknown tragedy. "Pavane" [DR, T-2], which is based on a piano piece written for his daughter (not currently available on disc), is a hide-and-seek intermix of reclusive and callow dancelike passages. Then the work closes with a whimsical "Rondo" [DR, T-3], whose skittish recurring subject brings to mind another of Hendrik's Paris associates, Albert Roussel (1869-1937). It ends the work tempestuously with an unexpected final blast from the brass.
Once again the composer's love of older musical forms (see Symphonie concertante above) shows in his impeccably structured Ricercare of 1949 [DR, T-4]. A staid beginning and harp glissando [01:31] introduce a vivacious allegro episode with hints of the old familiar B-A-C-H (Bb-A-C-B) motif (BM) [beginning at 03:32] used by Franz Liszt (1811-1886), and many other composers.
It's followed by a pious section [04:30] out of which BM emerges [05:21] transitioning into a final allegro passage [06:08]. Here previous ideas along with BM are developed, and the work ends profoundly with more of Andriessen's timpanic thunder.
The Italian commedia dell'arte's comic characters have inspired a number of composers (see 8 September, 6 October 2014), Hendrik included. His suite known as Mascherata (1962) depicts some of these zanies.
Calling for more percussion than any of his other scores, it's his most colorful work. Set in four movements, or charades as he refers to them, the first represents the mischievous servant Arlecchino (Harlequin) [DR, T-5]. Fleeting motifs set to fractious rhythms perfectly suit this troublemaker.
The next one concerns the sad clown Pierrot and his wife Colombina (Columbina) [DR, T-6]. The warm opening seemingly reflects his love for her, but she rejects and leaves him for Arlecchino as suggested in the movement's heartbroken closing measures.
A lovelorn feeling prevails in the third devoted to Leandro [DR, T-7], who's one of several Innamorati (male lovers) found in commedia dell'arte. However, there are a couple of tantrum-like passages that presumably avow the immature childlike behavior typifying these characters.
The boastful, cowardly buffoon Scaramuccia (Scaramouche) and Ottavio, who's another of the Innamorati, are the subjects of the final movement [DR, T-8]. Puckish percussion-accented outer passages characterize the former, while a couple of wistful interludes reflect the sad presence of the latter. This charade brings the suite to an audacious conclusion.
The last selection on this disc is titled Wilhemus van Nassouwe (1950) [DR, T-9] after a homonymous French soldiers' song of 1568, whose melody became that for the Dutch National Anthem (DNA). It's a rhapsody roughly structured like a theme and variations with DNA the main underlying subject. Like Vincent d'Indy's (1851-1931) Istar [Variations] (1896, see 25 April 2010), DNA doesn't appear in all its glory until the very end.
The work opens with the first variation [00:01], which is an austere version of DNA that undergoes a brief development with a trumpet riff (TR) [01:21] hinting at it. A perky transformation follows [02:58], ending in another TR [04:31] that announces a funereal variant. This becomes agitated [05:29], and then relaxes into pastoral-sounding passages [06:11], out of which a DNA-related fugato treatment [07:17] emerges.
It prefaces a frenetic bridge [07:33] into recollections of the opening measures [08:16] and another TR [08:40]. After that there's a drum roll, couple of suspense-building measures, and finally the big DNA tune [08:54] ending this festive work on a nationalistic note. Incidentally, DNA also appears in the Benoit recommendation below, towards the end of Part II [D-1, T-16; 00:00].
As on the first volume in this series (see 20 March 2013) conductor David Porcelijn and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra (NSO) give superb accounts of everything on both of these CDs. They play with great enthusiasm as well as a sensitivity and attention to detail, which bring out all the intricacies of Andriessen's scores. These are some of the NSO's best performances to date in their continuing exploration of unknown symphonic Dutch treats (see 7 November 2012).
Made at the Music Center in Enschede, Netherlands, by the same production staff, all the recordings project a robust soundstage in a warm, moderately live acoustic. The overall instrumental timbre is pleasing with the many solo and small ensemble passages ideally highlighted. The highs are occasionally on the brittle side, but the midrange is very musical and bass end exceptionally clean. There's a touch of digital grain in massed upper violin passages.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150731, P150730)
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Benoit, Peter: De Schelde (cpte orat); Soloists/Brabbins/Flem & Neth RCs/RFlem P [RFlem P]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
Four years ago we made a passing reference to Belgian composer Peter Benoit's (1834-1901) 1868 oratorio De Schelde (see 27 July 2011), which back then wasn't available on CD. But here it is courtesy of the Royal Flemish Philharmonic label, and at a "twofer" bargain price as well!
Born in the Dutch-speaking northern region of Belgium known as Flanders, Benoit would study at the Brussels Conservatory (1851-5). Then after sojourns to Germany and France (1857-61), settle in Antwerp, where he devoted himself to founding a Flemish school of music. In the long-run his efforts were unsuccessful, but along the way he wrote some stirring nationalistic pieces, the one in this album being his best.
To use the composer's own words it's a "romantic-historical oratorio" whose subject is the Scheldt River. Having a contentious history to say the least, it flows from France across Belgium via Antwerp and the southwest corner of the Netherlands into the North Sea. The work celebrates its becoming an international waterway with the resultant emergence of that city as a global seaport and Flanders, an important maritime center.
With a libretto by Flemish poet Emanuel Hiel (1834-1899; see the album booklet for the complete text in Dutch and English), it's scored for soprano, two tenors, two baritones, chorus and orchestra. In three parts it's an exceedingly metaphoric utterance whose subject is the river between twilight and dawn.
First there's an orchestral prelude [D-1, T-1] that starts with a slow rising five-note phrase (RF) [00:02]. This undergoes a development suggesting the water's ebb and flow, followed by a coursing Scheldt River motif (SR) [03:21] that'll recur periodically.
A baritone referred to as "The Poet" then sings about the river's inspiring feelings of joy, love and greatness [D-1, T-2]. After that a tenor and soprano representing a boy and girl along its edge engage in a sentimental duet [D-1, T-3] where we learn they're sweethearts. There are underlying references to SR in both of these selections.
As the sun sets the youngsters are joined by a ferryman and farmers in a captivating ensemble number [D-1, T-4 through 7]. At times reminiscent of Meyerbeer's (1791-1864) operas (see 23 June 2014) and Wagner's (1813-1883) The Flying Dutchman (1841-52), this brings Part I to a close.
The next one opens as The Poet sings a dramatic prologue about the moonlit night [D-1, T-8]. He first describes the river slithering through Flander's meadows like a silvery snake. Then to an accompaniment with martial overtones he declares the sight reminds him of many past Flemish heroes and conflicts associated with the Scheldt.
This gives way to an exciting chorus for past Flemish victims and fighters, as well as the French patricians they fought against in the Flanders peasant revolt of 1323-8 [D-1, T-9]. Led by Nicolaas Zannekin (?-1328), who died in the final battle, his ghost appears next. He delivers a tragic remembrance of the conflict [D-1, T-10] that's followed by a rousing continuation of the opening.
The French Commander then rallies his men in a stirring aria [D-1, t-11] succeeded by a triumphant chorus for the Flemish people, who declare they'll never give up their battle for freedom. After that the ghost of another Flemish hero, Jacob van Artevelde (1290-1345), materializes. He exhorts his people in a glorious song [D-1, T-12] to value peaceful commercial pursuits over warlike ones. A thrilling closing chorus [D-1, T-13] implies the Flemings finally triumphing over the French.
Then it's back to our young couple who've dozed off on the river bank. This time around we get an ominous duet, the girl having just awakened from nightmares related to all the preceding spooky happenings [D-1, T-14]. There are also a couple of allusions to SR [2:02 and 02:19].
But as the old saying goes, "things come in threes" and we get the appearance of a third ghost. It's Willem van Oranje (aka William of Orange or William the Silent, 1533-1584), a local Dutch leader who figured heavily in the first part of the Eighty Years War (1568-1648) against occupying Spanish forces. He has an aria [D-1, T-15] with a melody [00:18] almost identical to the DNA subject of the Wilhemus van Nassouwe (1950) selection on the second Andriessen volume mentioned above [DR, T-9; 08:54].
After that we get an exhilarating ensemble for all his rebel followers as well as the young couple. Part II then ends in a triumphant chorus for everyone set to the actual DNA tune [D-1, T-16; 00:00]. The last line honors the Netherlands as Belgium was then just a nameless southern region of what was then known as the Dutch Republic.
The third part like the first two is introduced by The Poet, who sings a contemplative ballad [D-2, T-1] with effusive verses describing the natural beauty of the Scheldt. He goes on to assert it uplifts the soul, and the river has the image of mankind smiling out of it.
Once again the young couple return [D-2, T-2] in a dramatic scene where we find the girl still upset from her dreams, and the boy attempting to calm her. He does so by calling attention to a departing ship on the river, and sings of their love for one another. Then we get a brisk chorus of the sailors [D-2, T-3] who are raising sails in preparation for its departure.
The exchange between the youngsters resumes [D-2, T-4] with the girl becoming more composed. It's succeeded by one of the oratorio's high points, a charming fishermen's chorus [D-2, T-5] with the haunting refrain "hebben wij ons net geworpen" ("we've spread our nets").
In the following number for the sweethearts [D-2, T-6] there seems to be a seductive element, but before things become overly amorous we get an almost hymnlike chorus of merchants and traders [D-2, T-7]. They extol international shipping for tightening the bonds of human love and peace, as well as bringing worldwide prosperity. Then the couple return for a romantic duet [D-2, T-8], in which the girl tells of her desires for a house along the river bank and a son.
The grand finale begins next with an introduction by someone simply referred to as "The Artist". He delivers an abstruse recitative and aria [D-2, T-9] crediting the Scheldt with ennobling mankind's soul and senses. The orchestral accompaniment has occasional halting riffs [beginning at 00:00] that bring to mind those soon to come in Ponchielli's (1834-1886) "Dance of the Hours" from his opera La Gioconda of 1876.
Thereupon the lovers return for a terrific concluding ensemble number that's the oratorio's capstone. It begins in delightfully tripping fashion [D-2, T-10] as the two with choral support from the sailors, farmers, fishermen, merchants and traders sing about Antwerp's tolling bells while they approach the city where the youngsters will presumably now raise a family.
Then RF (see above) reappears [D-2, T-11], and The Artist delivers a final paean to the river. This ends with a moving, exultant chorus for everybody based on RF and SR [02:09], entreating the Scheldt to flow on for everybody's gain.
Our soloists for this are soprano Cathy Van Roy (girl), tenors Gijs Van der Linden (boy) and Willem Van der Heyden (French Commander), plus baritones Werner Van Mechelen (The Poet, Artevelde and The Artist) as well as Kris Belligh (ferryman, Zanneken and Willem). All sing with great commitment, and are in good form except for some Cowardly Lion vibrato from Mr. Van der Heyden.
They receive fine support from British conductor Martyn Brabbins, who just gave us a wonderful disc of Havergal Brian (1876-1972) rarities (see 30 April 2015). On this release he gets superb performances from the Flemish and Netherlands Radio Choirs along with the Royal Flemish Philharmonic.
This live stereo recording was made two years ago at the Waagnatie Exposition Center in Antwerp. The good news is that except for some felicitous final applause, a well-chosen microphone setup along with skillful postproduction touch-up and editing preclude any extraneous audience noise. But on the negative side the resultant soundstage projected is somewhat narrow and recessed.
While the instrumental timbre is pleasing, and each of the individual singers well captured, there's some graininess in massed choral passages. This being an oratorio the soloists remain stationary in front of the orchestra and combined choruses behind it for the entire work. The balance between them is good throughout.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150729)
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Fuchs, R.: Pno Trio 3, Vn Son 6, 6 Phantasiestücke (va & pno); Plotino/Cavalletti/Polimanti [Brilliant]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
All five of Austrian composer Robert Fuchs' (1847-1927) serenades (1874-94) have appeared in these pages (see 18 April 2011, 25 April 2012). Now Brilliant Classics gives us an equally desirable disc of three chamber works written some twenty to thirty years later (1915-27). While structural simplicity and a melodic flow like that in Schubert (1798-1828) characterize the earlier pieces, these here are significantly more advanced.
They show the influence of Robert's good friend Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). However, there's a rhythmic and harmonic freedom that goes beyond that auguring what would soon come in the late romantic from the likes of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911; see 23 June 2006), Franz Schmidt (1874-1939; see 15 January 2010), and even Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957; see 31 March 2011), all of whom were students of Fuchs.
The program opens with his third and final piano trio, which calls for a viola instead of the customary cello. Dating from 1921, it's in four movements, and begins with a superbly fashioned sonata form allegro [T-1] having two subjects.
The first is berceuse-like idea (FB) [00:01] with a rhythmic riff [0:38] that will recur throughout the movement. A second even more lyrical one (SL) follows [01:28]. Then the two undergo an elegant development [02:35], stirring recap [05:05], and FB-introduced coda [07:39] bringing things to a forceful conclusion.
In the sublime A-B-A form andante [T-2] Schubertian, melodically enticing passages surround distraught ones [02:15-03:48] recalling Mahler's more tormented moments. After that there's a fetching diversionary scherzo [T-3] with tripping outer sections framing three infectious rustic dances [02:04-03:34].
The last allegro [T-4] is also in sonata form, but this time around there are three subjects. Sequentially whimsical (W) [00:01], downcast (D) [00:50] and sanguine (S) [01:23], they undergo a canonically-spiced development [02:21] made all the more dramatic by their contrasting nature. A recap [04:04] leads to a closing coda based on D [06:37] and W [07:21] where there's a final reminder of S [07:50] that ends the work hopefully.
The composer's sixth and last violin sonata of 1915 is next, and sounds even more progressive than the preceding trio. Dedicated to the great German violinist Adolf Busch (1891-1952; see 20 May 2006), it's in three movements, the first being an allegro [T-5]. Here the violin introduces an angular rising theme (AR) [00:03] with a drumming accompaniment reminiscent of Bruckner (1824-1896). After some elaboration the piano plays a graceful descending second idea (GD) [02:13].
A harmonically adventurous development follows [02:36] in which we get a commanding reappearance of GD [03:17] and recapitulative references to AR [04:56]. Then the movement ends frenetically in a GD-introduced coda [07:07] with final bravura passages hinting at AR.
The andante is the sonata's melodic high point [T-6]. It's a lilting serenade with a couple of extended themes that bring to mind Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) chamber music.
The closing allegro [T-7] couldn't be more different! It's a vivacious sonata-rondo with a vaulting preface [00:02] and rambunctious Eastern European folklike first theme (RE) [00:10]. The latter is out of Smetana (1824-1884) and Dvorák (1841-1904) with a catchy hunt-like phrase [00:22-00:30].
RE is succeeded by a lilting lyrical motif [00:52], and the two chase each other about in a couple of developmental sequences [beginning at 01:18]. Then there are suggestions of past ideas, and the sonata ends in an efficacious coda [04:42].
This release closes with Robert's last work, a set of 6 Phantasiestücke (6 Fantasy Pieces) for viola and piano of 1927. Nostalgic in tone, they could be interpreted as endearing reflections by the composer on his past life. In that regard their structure echoes dance forms of bygone days.
Marked "ländler tempo" [T-8], the initial piece could be Fuchs recalling Vienna's glorious days as waltz capital of the world. However, there's an urgent passage perhaps intimating the troubled times to come [01:13-02:03].
The next "ruhig und ausdrücksvoll" ("peaceful and expressively") [T-9] is a lullaby possibly related to family memories. Then "leicht bewegt" ("light and animated") [T-10] could characterize the hustle and bustle of everyday life. While the soothing nocturnal "andante sostenuto con espressione" ("slow and sustained with expression") [T-11] seems indicative of relaxed evening hours spent at home.
The penultimate "massig bewegt" ("massive and animated") is a wistful waltz [T-12] probably connoting sad memories. However, the final "allegretto con delicatezza" ("gently fast and light') [T-13] seemingly ends this set of fantasies with a hopeful outlook for the future.
All hailing from Italy, our musicians are violinist Julio Plotino, violist Claudio Cavalletti and pianist Enrico Maria Polimanti. Plotino and Polimanti deliver consistently fine playing. However, there's some intonational queasiness as regards Signore Cavaletti. But no matter because this undeservedly neglected music will soon make you forget any performance shortcomings.
Made last year at a studio in Rome, the recordings project a compact sonic image in close surroundings. While the violin is somewhat bright in upper registers, the piano and viola are realistically captured. A good balance is maintained between them throughout the disc. Had there been a feeling of more space around the musicians, this disc would have probably gotten an audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150728)
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Godard, B.: Cpte Stg Qts (3); Élysée Qt [Timpani]
????????????????????? (1 CD)
Although he died of tuberculosis at the early age of forty-five, French composer Benjamin Godard (1849-1895) managed to produce around 150 works of all types except sacred music. Granted these include many salon trifles, but he also wrote a number of significant pieces, several of which have appeared on releases we've told you about over the past seven years (see 30 April 2008, 31 May 2010, 7 October 2011, 7 November 2012).
Now Timpani gives us some worthy additions with these world premier recordings of his three string quartets, each of which is in four movements. Fifteen years separate the first two (1876-7) from the last (1892), giving a revealing glimpse of Godard's stylistic development during his relatively short career.
While many of his contemporaries had fallen under the spell of Richard Wagner (1813-1883), Benjamin had no use for him. Instead you'll find hints of Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847, see 27 February 2008, 21 December 2009), and particularly Robert Schumann (1810-1856) in his music.
The initial quartet of 1876 starts off with a modified sonata form allegro [T-1] having two ideas that are respectively dramatic [00:03] and songful [01:00]. An ornate development follows, and then a recap that begins excitedly [05:27] and slows, concluding the movement with a whisper.
The theme and variations that's next [T-2] begins with a perky, pizzicato gavotte-like subject [00:01]. The five variants that follow are sequentially dainty [00:24], churlish [00:49], wispy [01:13], sobbing [01:46], and rustic [02:10] with a hint of bagpipes.
An enthralling andante [T-3] is the emotional crux of the quartet, and must rank among Godard's most moving moments. It's offset by a fetching final allegro [T-4] in which a sprightly tune (ST) [00:01] and lyrical singing idea [01:00] enter into a rondoesque dialogue. This dominates the movement, and ends the work in a terse coda [06:33] based on ST.
Coming on the heels of its predecessor, the second quartet of 1877 also begins with an allegretto [T-5]. It features an endearing lullaby-like thematic nexus [00:01], which suddenly transitions into an anxious countersubject [01:54]. The two undergo an imaginative extended development that fills out the movement, closing it with brief hints of the opening measures [06:08].
A stark chorale (SC) permeates the andante [T-6] right from the start, giving it the feel of an austere passacaglia. However, the mood brightens in the antsy scherzo [T-7], where there's an innocence that makes one wonder if Benjamin knew George Onslow's (1784-1853; see 25 April 2010) quartets.
The concluding allegro [T-8] is a Godard gem that begins with Mendelssohnian flights having hints of an endearing lyrical idea (EL) soon to come [00:30]. EL is elaborated and followed by a reflective countersubject [01:51] of Schumannesque angularity related to SC (see above) and EL.
The two are quickly developed, and a brief EL-based recap [03:12] and coda [03:37] end the work in a fiddling fury. Incidentally one of this work's dedicatees was violinist Engelbert Röntgen (1829-1898), father of Dutch composer Julius Röntgen (1855-1932), who's appeared in these pages on several occasions (see 12 August 2014).
Written three years before the composer's death, his third and final quartet (1892) is a much more refined work. There's an air of sophistication replacing the youthful brio in his earlier efforts that makes it his most progressive and finest achievement in the genre.
This is apparent right from the start of the sublime allegro [T-9], which opens with the cello playing a relaxed confident theme (RC) [00:01] soon picked up by the other instruments. A brief exploration follows, and we get a short fidgety motif (SM) [01:07] succeeded by a lyrical aria-like melody (LA) [01:27]. A tonally adventurous development of RC, SM and LA is next. Then the movement ends in another of those short Godard recap codas [05:18] based mostly on LA [06:15].
A moving contemplative dialogue for violin and cello is the marrow of the adagio [T-10], which is the longest movement and the quartet's emotional heart. It's offset by a balmy miniature minuetto [T-11] that acts as a breather before the rigorous final allegro [T-12].
This is a highly complex movement in a modified sonata form, where there's a second development instead of a recapitulation. It begins with a troubled harmonically dense subject [00:01] followed by a hymnlike melody [00:58]. The two undergo frenetic tandem developments [01:20 and 03:43] that are the most progressive music in any of these quartets. Then the work ends in a thrilling perorative coda [05:14].
The Élysée Quartet (ÉQ) makes an auspicious CLOFO debut with these splendid performances. We're told in the album notes ÉQ was founded ten years ago by members of two former quartets based respectively in France and Russia. This would seem to explain the Gallic sensitivity they bring to Godard's mellower moments, and technically brilliant Slavic abandon in wilder ones.
Made last year on a couple of occasions at the Conservatory in Rennes, France, the recordings project a perfectly proportioned sonic image in a warm nourishing acoustic. The string tone is naturally vibrant with silky highs, a mellow midrange, and clean lows with no hint of any resonant hangover. With instrumental sound this good, the disc deserves an audiophile rating despite some low frequency murmurs underlying the second quartet [T-5 through 8]. These were probably occasioned by outside traffic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y150727)
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Suchon: Baladická suita, Metamorfózy,Symfonietta rustica; N.Järvi/EstNa SO [Chandos]
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The disappearance of Bratislava-based Opus Records a few years ago made it much harder to find modern day CDs of music by twentieth century Slovak composers. However, Chandos and enterprising conductor Neeme Järvi now help fill the gap with this release of three orchestral works by Eugen Suchon (1908-1993). These are the only recordings of them currently extant on disc.
Born near Bratislava, Eugen was the son of an organist and choirmaster. He began his musical education there at age twelve, and went on to study with Vitezslav Novák (1870-1949) at the Prague Conservatory. Then in the early 1930s he returned to Bratislava, where he'd live out his life as a distinguished teacher and composer.
He'd leave a modest number of works, which like Leos Janácek's (1854-1928) show the influence of local folk music. However, there's a chromatic interplay and structural connectivity dominating Suchon's compositions similar to that in those by his compatriot Alexander Moyzes (1906-1984), and Czech counterparts Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), Pavel Haas (1899-1944), Bohuslav Martinú (1908-1959; see 20 June 2013), Josef Suk (1929-2011).
These stylistic elements characterize even his early Baladická suita (Balladic Suite) of 1935, which along with the other selections on this disc require repeated listening to be fully appreciated. In four movements, there's something warlike about the initial allegro [T-6], where agitated aggressive passages alternate with tranquil bucolic ones. The latter eventually win out, concluding the movement sedately.
After a short pause there's an adagio [T-7] that begins as a restrained vernal offering for winds and strings. There are touches of late French impressionism like those found in Florent Schmitt's (1870-1958) music (see 9 April 2014).
It builds to a romantic climax that suddenly ends, transitioning via a soft sustained note [03:37] into a wistful episode. This introduces recollections of the opening, which conclude the movement much like it began.
A change of pace is next with the succeeding animated allegro [T-8]. Here marchlike outer sections abut a colorfully scored wistful episode [02:19-03:21], ending the movement on a combative note.
Then we get a final largo [T-9] along the lines of the preceding adagio. It begins peacefully, and swells into a towering crescendo with rapacious moments recalling those in the first allegro. These quietly fade away to conclude the suite with a sense of arrant resignation.
Almost twenty years separate the foregoing from Metamorfózy (Metamorphoses) completed in late 1953. Described by Suchon as variations on an original theme, it takes the form of another suite. This time around there are five movements, each being a transformation based on the main subject (MS). We're told they're meant to reflect the composer's state of mind shortly before, during, and just after World War II (1939-45).
The opening one gives us MS, which is a chromatically circuitous idea that goes on for a little over two minutes [T-1]. It's then delineated a bit more in the second [T-2], which along with the first could represent a feeling of serenity prior to 1939.
A twitchy riff announces the next part [T-3], which is an agitated variant with ominous passages presumably indicative of war-related anxiety. After that ear-catching scalar runs on the piano and relaxed wind passages announce a moving romantic fourth movement [T-4]. This could be interpreted as a sense of euphoria and hope brought about by the cessation of hostilities.
The closing metamorphosis [T-5] is by far the longest. It begins with commanding brass [00:00] heralding an emotionally complex transformation at times sounding like Smetana (1824-1884) [beginning at 02:11]. There are dark memories of war, but more MS-derived brass declarations [06:42] transition into a stream of consciousness coda that ends the work jubilantly.
Filling out the CD there's Eugen's three movement Symfonietta rustica (A Rustic Sinfonietta, 1955-6). It's derived from a series of children's piano pieces known collectively as Pictures from Slovakia (1954-5; not currently available on disc). As the name of the original material implies, folk music figures heavily in it. More specifically, Suchon uses his own system of scales based on the modal melodies found in the songs and dances of rural Slovakia.
An emotional, programmatic-sounding work it could well have been inspired by some local folk figure. One possibility would be Juraj Jánoík (1688-1713), who was the Slavic Robin Hood of the Tatra Mountains in northern Slovakia and southern Poland (see 16 January 2007).
Proceeding on that assumption, the first movement [T-10] could represent a typical day in his life, beginning with a warm sunrise [00:00]. After that some folksy dance numbers [01:04] surrounding a lovely passage having amorous violin solos [02:28-03:10] seemingly imply his many exploits. Then the music slows, closing with what might be a gentle sunset [04:48].
The following ominous adagio [T-11] with its tragic central episode [01:47-04:33] may dramatize Jánoík's capture and execution. Then the final animated allegro [T-12] seems a powerful commemoration of his good and bad qualities. If that's the case, its perfunctory ending leaves one wondering whether Jánoík was a hoodlum or a hero.
We have Chandos and the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra under their indefatigable, septuagenarian, Music Director Neeme Järvi to thank for unearthing these Slovak singularities. Maestro Järvi's powerhouse performances serve as an ideal introduction to the music of this little known composer.
The recordings were made on a couple of occasions over the past two years in the Estonia Concert Hall, Tallinn. They project a consistent soundstage that seems narrower than those on the most recent Chandos releases we've covered (see 14 July 2014, 10 November 2014, 30 June 2015).
The surrounding venue is acceptably reverberant, and the instrumental timbre pleasing with bright highs and a realistic midrange. Suchon's scoring favors strings, and calls for modest percussion. Consequently the bass is lean and clean with no hint of overhang in the bowed instruments' lower registers. All things considered, this is Chandos sound that falls a wee bit short of demonstration quality.
Seeing as they're now resurrecting forgotten Slovak composers, here's a closing request for Chandos. How about a release featuring the symphonic music of Mikulá Schneider-Trnavský (1881-1958)?
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P150726)
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