CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 OCTOBER 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.
Burge, J.: Pno Qt, Pas de Deux (vn & vc), String Theory (va & pno); EnMadeInCan [Centre]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
With this new release from Centrediscs please welcome Canadian composer John Burge (b.1961) to these pages. Born in Ontario he has music degrees from Toronto as well as British Columbia University, and is one of Canada's leading teachers.
He's composed a large number of works in all genres, and we're told he particularly likes writing for stringed instruments. The three pieces on this disc completed between 2010 and 2012 reveal an exceptional talent for doing that.
The first selection titled Pas de Deux (2010) [T-1] for violin and cello, is an instrumental counterpart of the familiar balletic duet. Accordingly there's an entrance and adagio performed by both participants, then solo variations for each, and a final coda where they're reunited.
The entrance has a dramatically entwined cello and violin [00:00] with the latter introducing a searching ardent theme (SA) [00:55] embraced by the former. SA is reprised [01:57] and elaborated. Then we get a closely related idea on the cello (CR) [03:47] with a repeated rising-falling violin accompaniment.
CR is briefly explored, and followed by a development of both subjects [05:29] having a dramatic episode full of multiple-stopping initiated by the cello [07:28]. After that there's a weeping reprise of the opening [08:48], some further development, and an CR/SA-derived coda [12:01] concluding the work despondently.
Burge calls the next piece String Theory (2011) [T-2], which is meant to connote the all-encompassing branch of theoretical physics where every subatomic particle is represented by a one-dimensional, vibrating string. That said, he allows as how it's a systematic or theoretical approach to writing for strings.
There are three versions for solo violin, viola (the one done here), and cello, each with piano accompaniment. All call for the basic string effects, which are presented in as many differing emotional passages as possible within the space of the piece's fifteen-minute span.
Adhering to a slow-fast-slow schema, it starts with the viola playing languid glissando-sighing phrases [00:00]. The piano enters under them stating an angular four-note motif (AF) [01:09] that will unify this "Chordophonic" sampler. An anxious AF-derived elaboration [01:45] follows, succeeded by a pensive passage [02:21], which turns agitated [03:39], mysterious [04:16] and ultimately deranged [05:24].
Then the piano introduces a frenetic scherzoesque episode [06:43] that subsides into a lovely legato romance for the viola [11:34]. Near the end there are reminders of AF [13:44], and the pianist plucks some of his instrument's higher strings in John Cage (1912-1992) fashion [13:58] (see 30 September 2012). This closes the piece with a "celestal" twinkle as the viola slowly ascends and vanishes.
Returning to the everyday world, the composer's Piano Quartet of 2012 commissioned and dedicated to our performers, fills out this exceptional disc. In three movements the first [T-3] gets off to vibrant, minimalistic-flavored start with quivering chords for all [00:00]. Soon the piano plays a five-note intervallic riff (FI) [00:48] that will pervade the piece. This anticipates an arresting, headstrong theme (AH) [01:31] with a rhythmic waywardness bringing Ravel (1875-1937) to mind.
It's followed by two cognates that are respectively giddy (CG) [02:26] and amorous (CA) [02:56]. They undergo along with AH an extensive, chromatically adventurous exploration [03:46] that's alternately skittish and rhapsodic. Vestiges of the opening measures then return [07:34] succeeded by allusions to past ideas, which include a diffident final reminder of CG on the piano [10:12].
The second and longest movement [T-4] is an intriguing Burge creation that's a scherzo flanked by slow sections. The opening one begins with glissando string effects [00:00], and the piano hinting at FI [00:17]. An elaboration of FI fills out this section, which bridges via nervous piano rustlings [04:54] into the virtuosic, highly chromatic scherzo. This soon gives way to a passionate closing section based on CG [07:44] and CA [08:53] with an FI-related postscript [11:47].
The final allegro ritmico (Fast and Rhythmic) [T-5] is an exciting rondo that starts with passages based in turn on CG [00:02] and CA [00:50]. These recur alternately in a variety of compelling rhythmic and harmonically adventurous guises. Then the work ends in a triumphant coda featuring an impressive, entirely new FI-rooted tune [08:18].
Making their CLOFO debut, the members of an all-woman piano quartet with the unusual name "Ensemble Made in Canada" are our performers. Judging by their technically accomplished, exceptionally sensitive playing, each of these ladies is a virtuoso in her own right!
Violinist Elissa Lee alongside cellist Rachel Mercer deliver a poignant Pas de Deux, and violist Sharon Wei with pianist Angela Park give us an unforgettable, one-of-a-kind String Theory. Then they all come together for a stunning account of Quartet, making this one of the best contemporary North American chamber music discs to roll down "CD Lane" in a long time.
The Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts in Parry Sound, Ontario was the location for these recordings, which project a lifelike sonic image in this spacious venue. The Canadian producers give us generally silky strings with an occasionally edgy-sounding viola, and a piano having a well-rounded percussiveness with no digital nasties. This CD is a good test of a system's ability to reproduce any of the four instruments represented here
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y151031
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Fucík: 2 Ovs, 8 Marches (incl Gladiators), 1 Polka, 3 Waltzes (full orch); N.Järvi/RScotNa O [Chandos (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Just a couple of months ago Chandos and conductor Neeme Järvi (b. 1937) gave us an invaluable disc of Slovak music by Eugen Suchon (1908-1993, see 31 July 2015). Now they move further west and back in time with some winning selections by Czech composer Julius Fucík (1872-1916), who in many ways is a cross between Franz von Suppé (1819-1895, see 25 February 2013), the Strauss family (1804-1916), and John Philip Sousa (1854-1932).
Born in Prague Julius entered the Conservatory there in 1885, first studying violin, then switching to bassoon, percussion and timpani. Later he joined a new composition class taught by Antonin Dvorák (1841-1904), and after graduation pursued a career with military bands in Austria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Hungary and Bohemia. He'd also play bassoon with several orchestras there.
Then in 1913 he settled in Berlin where he started his own band and music publishing business. But his fortunes and health began to decline with the outbreak of World War I (1914-8), and he died at the early age of forty-four.
During his brief career he wrote a significant number of shorter band and symphonic works, highlights of which appear on this new Chandos hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0), release in versions for full orchestra. There are some old favorites among the fourteen selections here, four of which are the only currently available recordings on disc. These are accordingly marked "OCAR" after their titles.
The disc begins with a concert overture entitled Marinarella (1908) [T-1], which is a colorfully scored offering with engaging tunes. It's in the Suppé tradition and ranks right up there with his orchestral works. Having Italian overtones, the animated opening and closing surround a graceful central section.
What's billed as a "Marche pittoresque" is next. Originally called Onkel Tom (Uncle Tom), the composer's publisher renamed it Oncle Teddy (Uncle Teddy, 1910; OCAR) [T-2]. One wonders if he was trying to capitalize on John Bratton's (1867-1947) The Teddy Bears' Picnic (1907), which was a very popular two-step back then.
It's in standard march form with a rhythmically rousing opening (RR) and an attractive central trio melody. Then RR returns, ending the piece with a sudden ff flourish.
The concert waltz Donausagen (Danube Legends, 1909) that follows is one of Fucík's finest creations. The quiet nostalgic opening recalls Johann Strauss, Jr. (1825-1899) [T-3], and is soon repeated in dramatic sweeping fashion [T-4]. Then we get a couple of lovely contrasting episodes [T-5 and 6], and a final coda, which ends the waltz full circle with elated reminders of previous ideas [T-7].
Another march titled Die lustigen Dorfschmiede (The Merry Blacksmiths, 1908) [T-8] is a jolly utterance with some colorful special effects. These include two anvils and some whistling from members of the orchestra.
Moving right along there's a comic polka, Der alte Brummbär (The Old Grumbler, 1907) [T-9]. With an ursine doddering main idea, the aging curmudgeon is represented by extensive solo passages for the composer's own instrument, the bassoon. All this reveals a sense of humor frequently found in Fucík's music
His best known and loved piece, the concert march Einzug der Gladiatoren (Entry of the Gladiators, 1899) [T-10], will bring back fond memories to circus-goers of those thrilling three-ring spectacles under the "Big Top". At first titled Grande Marche chromatique, it was originally intended as a showpiece for newly designed brass instruments that could easily play rapid chromatic passages.
Then it seems the composer read and was smitten with Henryk Sienkiewcz's novel Quo Vadis - A Narrative of the Time of Nero (1895-6), where he describes gladiators entering the arena and saluting the Emperor with the old familiar line "Those who are about to die salute you!" So the title eventually became the one we know it by today.
The concert overture Miramare (1912) [T-11] takes as its subject the scenic, opulent 19th century castle by that name near Trieste, Italy. Its scenic parks, glorious gardens and opulent interior are suitably reflected in this lavish symphonic portrait. A splendorous opening is followed by spacious wind passages recalling days of old. It then ends à la Suppé with a brace of memorable themes worked into a captivating finale [04:16].
At one point the composer was thinking of writing an operetta set in Italy, but he only completed what might have been the opening selection. Titled Florentiner (1907) [T-12], it's a "Grande marcia itlaliana" that's a winning Czech counterpart of Victor Herbert's (1859-1924) "March of the Toys" in his Babes in Toyland (1903).
Another concert waltz, Winterstürme (Winter Storms, 1906) [T-13], seems out of the Strauss family, and headed towards Lehár (1870-1948, see 7 October 2011). Over and above that there's a balletic dimension recalling Alexander Glazunov's (1865-1936) two written in 1893-4.
A couple of stirring marches, Hercegovac (1908; OCAR) [T-14] and Die Regimentskinder (Children of the Regiment, 1905), follow [T-15]. The first is a folksy, rustic number named after a Croatian village, and begins with a fanfare similar to that opening the preceding piece. The other was a favorite with bands throughout the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918).
Ballettratten (Ballerina Brats, if you will; 1909; OCAR) gets off to a precious start [T-16] where it's easy to imagine a gaggle of giggling schoolgirl ballerinas trotting on stage. Then there's a brief pause, and the music resumes with a forceful introduction [00:48] to a huffing-and-puffing, umpapa waltz [T-17].
This has a central episode that's sequentially lyrical and gliding [T-18], followed by a puerile tune [T-19] with more of that whistling (see Die lustigen Dorfschmiede above). It prefaces another forte waltz segment [01:08], which transitions via melodic passages [T-20] into a final swirling coda with remembrances of past ideas. [00:24].
Although the composer never got to America, it must have been on his mind when he came up with The Mississippi March (1902) [T-21], which smacks of Sousa. Here a blustery bellicose opening gives way to a flowing tune with piquant touches of piccolo.
The program ends with a commanding concert march titled Unter der Admiralsflagge (Under the Admiral's Flag, 1901; OCAR) [T-22]. We don't know what special occasion might have prompted this, but it was later played at an important Austrian naval ceremony in Trieste. This was the 1911 launching of their new dreadnought class battle ship Viribus Unitis (Joint Forces).
Here a fetching introduction with a mule-kick rhythm [00:18] and jingle-bell riff [00:51] is succeeded by an engaging melody [01:29]. It's the subject of a big-tune ending that concludes the march and this festive disc triumphantly.
As with their earlier Suppé release for Chandos (see 23 February 2013) Neeme Järvi (b. 1937) and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) give superb accounts of all the selections on this imaginatively programmed release. Although many of them have already appeared on disc, these spirited performances leave most of those in the dust!
Also made in the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, with the same production staff and complement of microphones, the recordings project a wide, deep sonic image in comfortably reverberant surroundings. The instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, a musical midrange, and clean rock-bottom bass.
Those listening to the SACD tracks may find the upper end a tad more silky with a bit more air. If you have a home theater system, the multi-channel mode will put you in a virtual, center front row seat. Audiophiles will want to take this along on their next high-end shopping expedition.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y151030)
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Hadley, H.: Salome, San Francisco, Othello..., Enchanted…, Cleopatra's…, Scherzo…; Miller/BBCCon O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Not to be confused with British composer Patrick Hadley (1899-1973; see 21 September 2011), his American namesake Henry Kimball Hadley (1871-1937) makes his CLOFO debut with this recent highly desirable Dutton release. He was born near Boston, Massachusetts, showed musical talent very early on, and first received violin lessons from his father, who taught at a number of schools in the area. By age 15 Henry was studying composition at the New England Conservatory of Music with George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931; see 19 October 2012).
He'd later further his education in Vienna (1894-5), where he may well have met Brahms (1833-1897). Then beginning in 1904, he'd spend five years in Germany, where one of his teachers was Ludwig Thuille (1861-1907, see 8 April 2013). He also met Richard Strauss (1864-1949; see 11 July 2007), whose music he greatly revered.
Returning to the USA in 1909, Hadley would pursue a highly successful conducting career. This included the music directorship of the Seattle (1909-11) and San Francisco Symphony (1911-5) Orchestras. He'd also spend seven years as an associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic (1921-9; see 30 September 2015), charged with performing music by American composers.
One of them was Hadley himself, who left a significant body of orchestral works that include five symphonies as well as many other fine selections, five of which appear here. These are the only currently available modern day recordings of them available on disc.
The program opens with one of his late, most progressive pieces, Scherzo Diabolique [T-1] of 1934. This is a brief symphonic impression that Hadley tells us was inspired by a harrowing, nighttime automobile ride he took to catch a train.
Strident with clamorous percussive-brass-accented outbursts, it aptly describes what he refers to as glaring oncoming headlights and the terrifying whoosh of passing cars. The music brings Saint- Saëns' (1836-1921) Danse macabre (1873-4; see 31 July 2012) and Dukas' (1865-1935) Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897) to mind, as well as the kinetic creations of George Antheil (1900-1959; see 14 May 2014) and Arthur Honegger (1892-1955).
Maybe the locomotive pulling Hadley's train was a Pacific 231. But all kidding aside, it's an arresting, impeccably crafted, colorfully scored work. It ranks right up there with the finest orchestral music being turned out by his contemporaries (see 30 March 2015).
The next selection is Hadley's thirty-five-minute tone poem Salome (1906) for large orchestra. Written while he was in Germany, and considering his admiration for Richard Strauss, Henry might well have gotten the idea from his recently completed opera of the same name (1903-5) based on Oscar Wilde's (1854-1900) eponymous tragedy (1891).
In six adjoining sections the first "lento" ("slow") [T-2] begins with subdued wind passages [00:01] where the oboe plays a sensuous motif (SM) [00:59] undoubtedly representing Salome. Then the music brightens as the orchestra joins in, building to a radiant crescendo. This fades and a brassy episode suddenly appears [04:57] where there's an imposing chorale-like idea (IC) [06:01] that would seem to characterize the imprisoned Prophet, John the Baptist.
After that there's a violin-initiated sensual transition [06:27] into a beautiful glowing "con ardore" ("ardently") [T-3]. This begins with a steamy variant of SM (SV) [00:01] followed by reminders of IC [beginning at 01:34]. These are food for an extremely chromatic development most likely mirroring Salome's lustful infatuation with John.
It gives way via reminders of SM to an "andante" [T-4] that opens with a slippery passage (SP) [00:01] conceivably outlining Salome's voluptuous body. A playful scherzoesque tidbit (PS) [00:51] follows, possibly reflecting the lascivious desires of Herod Antipas, Tetrach of Judea, for this "Queen of Tarts".
SP and PS then alternate setting the stage for the infamous "Dance of the Seven Veils" [T-5]. Hadley's is generally more flighty than its Strauss counterpart, and has a brilliantly scored, exciting finale that falls away into a "moderato con fermezza" ("moderately but firm") [T-6].
With a forceful tragic introduction referencing SM [01:18] and IC [02:30], this section presumably tells about the Prophet's execution. Moreover, Salome demands his head on a silver platter. Accordingly Herod having promised her anything to dance for him, has John decapitated and served up as requested.
The final moving "piu lento" ("more slowly") [T-7] would seem to reflect Salome's declaring her love for the severed head, and kissing the Prophet's lips passionately. This disgusts and terrifies the superstitious Herod, who orders his soldiers to kill her. They then crush her to death beneath their shields [03:10], and with underlying hints of SV [03:47], bring this graphic tone poem to a bizarre conclusion.
Between 1910 and 1920 Hadley wrote three operas, the most successful of which was his two-act Cleopatra's Night (1918, not currently available on disc) based on French writer Théophile Gautier's (1811-1872) similarly named short story (c. 1838). The "Intermezzo" that prefaces the last act, where another female lead kisses lifeless lips (see plot), is next [T-8]. It features a captivating flute-dominated descant over an Eastern-sounding accompaniment.
The Othello Overture of 1919 [T-9] is actually another tone poem, but this time based on the Shakespeare (1564-1616) play (1603), and only half as long as Salome. It begins with a portentous four-note motif (PF) [00:01] that will dominate the work. This is succeeded by ominous PF-laced passages that intensify, and accelerate into a slow romantic episode where Hadley probably had Desdemona in mind [04:20].
PF then introduces [06:23] a faster more intense developmental section with contrapuntal imitative and fugal devices, which might represent Iago's malicious machinations. This ends in a dark PF-related chorale episode [09:58], PF brass pronouncements [10:51], and a fateful bass-drumroll [11:26] possibly signifying Desdemona's demise. A melancholy epilogue follows [11:41] concluding this tragic tone tale with a sense of peaceful resignation.
Next we get a piece that may well have been prompted by such programmatic American music as Ferde Grofe's (1892-1972) Mississippi and Grand Canyon Suites (1925, 1931; see 20 November 2006), and Hadley's years as a conductor in the Bay Area (see above). Entitled San Francisco (1931), it's three musical snapshots commemorating aspects of that city.
The Harbor [T-10] gets off to an impressionistic start with what seems like an early morning, fog-enshrouded bay and chirping water birds. As day breaks the pace quickens with the sound of boat whistles succeeded by a bustling hornpipe-tinged episode. Probably meant to represent busy dock workers and sailors, it brings this tone picture to an exciting conclusion.
A change of pace is next with Chinese Quarter [T-11] having pentatonic melodies and exotic Eastern-scoring. Then a good time is had by all in Mardi Gras seemingly honoring "Carnival San Francisco", which is an annual city festival and street parade celebrated during the last weekend in May. It's a blithely orchestrated rollicking reminiscence bringing the suite to a jubilant conclusion.
In his earlier years the composer was also a valued music teacher. This seems reflected in the short work filling out this wonderful disc, which is known as The Enchanted Castle Overture (1933) [T-13]. Specifically tailored for school orchestras, Hadley has instilled this straightforward sonata form piece with an accessibility and directness that make it ideally suited for young musicians.
A regal opening idea (RO) [00:01], and bounding countermelody (BC) [00:45] smack of Sir Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901-30; see 15 March 2008), the first of which many of those students who played the Hadley probably graduated to!
An elaboration of RO follows [01:47], and then both ideas starting with BC undergo a straightforward development [03:27]. It's followed by a recap beginning with a big tune declaration of RO [05:43] that turns nostalgic. This gives way to a frisky BC-based coda [07:00], which ends this youthful utterance in "Edwardian" triumph.
American conductor Rebecca Miller and the BBC Concert Orchestra make a strong case for Hadley's music. They deliver performances that are dynamic, well-paced, and emotionally sensitive without becoming saccharine. Hopefully Maestro Miller and Dutton will give us more of this exceptionally talented, but too infrequently heard composer. How about those symphonies (see above)?
Made in the spacious, reverberant Colosseum Town Hall, Watford, England, the recordings project an immensely wide sonic image in cavernous surroundings. Depending on your system settings and speaker placement some may find the resulting soundstage excessively bowed back. As far as the orchestral timbre is concerned, the highs and upper midrange are coruscating, while the lower mids and bass are more natural sounding.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P151029)
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Kuula: South Ostrobothnian Stes 1 & 2, Festive March, Prel & Fugue; Segerstam/Turku PO [Ondine]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Sibelius (1865-1957) lovers are in for a treat with this new release from Ondine featuring symphonic music by his first composition student, Finnish composer Toivo Kuula (1883-1918). Taught earlier by Armas Järnefelt (1869-1958; see 6 January 2011), he'd later study with Enrico Bossi (1861-1925) in Italy (1908-9), and go on to Leipzig and Paris for additional training (1909-10).
Apparently a man with a fiery temper, he'd die at age 34 from a gunshot wound incurred in a violent, liquor-incited confrontation during a celebration commemorating the end of Finland's Civil War (1918). Best remembered for his vocal music, he'd also leave a few orchestral works, four of which are included here. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program begins with Festive March (1910) [T-1] composed during his time in Paris. Stately, commanding outer sections with a couple of attractive melodies surround a playful, folksy trio. It's in the same ballpark with the march from his mentor's Karelia Suite (1893).
The closest Kuula ever came to writing a symphony are the two, five-movement, South Ostrobothnian Suites. Named for the region of Finland where he grew up, they abound in folk material he had collected there, which gives them a distinctive nationalistic flavor.
The first dating from 1906-9 starts with "Maisema" ("Landscape") [T-2], which has a sweeping opening followed by lovely pastoral passages with a rustic English horn solo. Then the music builds to an atmospheric climax that has impressionistic overtones, possibly reflecting his time in Paris.
"Kansanlaulu" ("Folk Song") [T-3] is just for strings, and recalls Grieg's (1843-1907) melancholy works for same. Then the mood brightens with "Pohjalainen tanssi" ("Ostrobothnian Dance") [T-4] and "Pirun polska" ("Devil's Dance") [T-5]. The former is a capricious number. The other, a three-part cavort with diabolical outer segments framing a slower, more introspective part.
The final "Hämärän laulu" ("Song of Dusk") [T-6] written with Bossi (see above) looking over Toivo's shoulder is the suite's longest, most intense movement. The morose opening slowly builds with ominous drumrolls and anguished winds to a dramatic climax.
This fades, and the English horn again takes center stage, introducing a restful lyrical section that intensifies. It achieves grief-stricken proportions, and then falls back with the music ending in quiet desperation like it began.
The first movement of the brilliantly scored second suite (1912-3) is named "Tulopeli" ("The Bride Arrives") [T-7]. It opens with festive horn calls, which as the title implies announce an exuberant nuptial march.
Then we get "Metsässä sataa" ("Rain in the Forest") [T-8] that starts with a fascinating effect produced on the snare drum [00:00]. Kuula tells us it's meant to represent the hiss of rain and hum of trees. Be that as it may, the music once again finds the composer in an impressionistic frame of mind. In fact there's a repeated, two-note rhythmic riff [00:20-00:25] reminiscent of a similar motif in the beginning of Debussy's (1862-1918) La Mer (1903-5; see 7 April 2007).
Folk influences again color the next two dances. "Minuee" ("Minuet") [T-9] is a delicate antique tidbit [T-10] for strings, and "Orpolasten polska" ("Dance of the Orphans") [T-10], a wistful number with a piquant innocent melody highlighted by the oboe.
The closing "Hiidet virvoja viritti" ("The Will-o'-the-Wisp") [T-11] is the suite's most extensive and dramatic movement, which many may find the highpoint of this disc. Lasting as long as the other four end to end, it's in essence a tiny tone poem with more impressionistic leanings.
Other than the title, the music is all we have to go as far as any underlying program goes. In that regard the opening features a cello solo that brings to mind the old familiar fairy tale cliché, "Once upon a time..." It's succeeded by attention-getting passages with brass outcries [00:21], and some of exotic Eastern persuasion (EE) [01:20].
Then an intervening drumroll [02:33] heralds a dramatic exploration of the foregoing. It transitions into a busy, phantasmal episode with insistent scales [04:58], whose mood is somewhat along the lines of César Franck's (1822-1890) Les Djinns (1884).
This ends with a bass-drum thump [09:08] followed by a sustained note played by the brass. Then bridging passages bring the return of EE [10:27] along with memories of the opening measures, ending the movement like it began.
The CD is filled out with his Prelude and Fugue for orchestra dating from 1908-9, which is literally a cart-before-the-horse piece. Moreover, the prelude [T-12] was composed a few months after the fugue [T-13], which had been written for Bossi (see above) the previous year.
It introduces a rather Nordic-sounding insistent tune that's the subject matter for this contrapuntal exercise. Impeccably constructed and brilliantly scored, the texture may remind you of Leopold Stokowski's (1882-1977) J.S. Bach (1685-1750) transcriptions.
Finnish conductor Leif Segerstam and the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra based in Southwest Finland give us authoritative, sensitive renditions of their countryman's music. They make one wish Kuula had completed that symphony the informative album notes tell us he started, but never got beyond the opening.
Made in the Turku Concert Hall, which has been home to some past CLOFO audiophile-rated recordings (see 30 September 2012 and 12 March 2014), these don't fare as well. This time the Finnish engineers give us a stretched soundstage in this reverberant enveloping acoustic. Some liking wetter sonics may find it acceptable, but those preferring a more delineated orchestral image will beg to differ. Generally speaking, the orchestral timbre is in on the bright side, with a pleasant midrange and clean bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P151028)
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Viana da Mota: "À Pátria" Sinfa, Inês de Castro, Chula do…, 3 improvisos…, Vito; Cassuto/RLiver PO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Journeying further west across Europe we come to Portugal and pianist-composer José Viana da Mota (also spelled Vianna da Motta, 1868-1948). A musical wunderkind he attracted the attention of the Royal Family, who'd sponsor his studies in Germany.
There he'd become one of Franz Liszt's (1811-1886) last students, and go on to start his career as a brilliant concert pianist. He was also a distinguished teacher, and became the head of the Geneva Conservatory's piano department in 1915. Then in 1919 he was appointed director of the Lisbon Conservatory, a position he'd hold until his retirement in 1938.
He left a significant body of works in a number of genres, and the five solely for orchestra are included here. These are the only readily available recordings of them currently on disc.
Viana da Mota was the first to instill Portuguese concert music with a sense of nationalism. The opening Sinfonia subtitled "À Pátria" ("To the Homeland", 1895) is a good example where there are folkish-sounding passages. At almost forty-five minutes, it's his one and only symphony. The first of its four movements is a sonata form allegro [T-1] with three themes stated at the outset.
These are respectively patriotic (PT) [00:03], songlike (SL) [01:52] and stately (ST) [02:54]. They're then followed by a well-constructed development and jubilant recap. The latter quietly transitions into a thrilling SL-based coda, which ends the movement triumphantly.
The succeeding adagio [T-2] is a tender romantic contemplation having a couple of attractive ideas. Here lovely string passages, which at one point become emotionally-wrought, alternate with delicate, wind-and-harp-enhanced ones.
An Iberian-tinged scherzo is next [T-3], and begins with a vivacious folklike dance. It's interspersed with a couple of tuneful wind-spiced trio sections with what sound like allusions to the Galician gaita, which is a local folk bagpipe.
The last movement has the programmatic marking "Decadence - Flight - Resurgence" [T-4]. With no indication of what the composer had in mind, it falls into three conjoined arches that are ominously threatening [00:00], anxiously fitful [02:44], and nationalistically triumphant [08:39]. The first of these begins with the bass clarinet playing a lugubrious reminder of PT that's followed by more cheerful allusions to SL in the winds and strings [01:12].
The music then explodes and dies away transitioning into the middle section. Here there are big tune recollections of SL and ST followed by an engaging exploration of same. This builds and fades away into the concluding arch, which starts with hints of SL that soon resurfaces in full [09:44]. It's the basis for a magnificent peroration that ends the symphony with patriotic pomp and reminders of SL.
Originally billed as an overture, the next selection titled Inês de Castro (1886) is a tone poem in the Lisztian tradition written when José was only eighteen. It's named after a Galician noblewoman (1325-1355), and was inspired by her relationship with the Portuguese heir apparent who'd later become Pedro I (Peter I, 1320-1367).
Although Prince Pedro was already married, he fell in love and had a continuing affair with her. This enraged his father King Afonso IV (1291-1357), who had her murdered, which led to his son's staging an armed revolt against him. After Pedro's wife had died and he'd succeeded to the throne, legend has it he married Inês posthumously, and crowned her exhumed corpse as his queen. Sounds a bit like a macabre Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849, see 13 December 2010) story!
A slow rapturous opening [00:00] with an amatory thematic nexus (AT) would seem to represent their feelings for each other. This builds to a climax, and is interrupted by a bellicose allegro episode (BA) [05:48] perhaps signifying the conflict between father and son.
There's a brief central section recalling the two lovers [06:51-08:04]. Then the poem ends passionately with an ecstatic reminder of AT [09:46], some related introspective passages, and several closing allusions to BA [12:24].
The three short selections filling out this intriguing release are related to folk music of Northern Portugal, and first appeared as solo piano pieces (dates unknown). The initial Chula do Douro (The Cutie from Douro) [T-6], which was orchestrated by Portuguese conductor-composer Frederico de Freitas (1902-1980, see 28 April 2013), is a flirtatious number with catchy Galician rhythms and melodies.
Then there's Três improvisos sobre motivos populares portugueses (Three Impromptus on Popular Portugese Tunes) [T-7], later scored by the composer. Here a winsome songlike tune alternates with a perky dance ditty.
Finally we get Vito (Victory) [T-8] in an anonymous arrangement revised by our conductor-composer Álvaro Cassuto (see 13 January 2014). A castanet-and-harp-accented fandango that brings Ravel's (1875-1937) Alborada del gracioso (1904-5) to mind, it's a fiery conclusion to this fascinating release of some Iberian symphonic curios.
Once again Maestro Cassuto gives us rousing renditions of more Portuguese rarities, this time with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. His performances of the symphony and tone poem far surpass what little competition there is, while the final three selections are world premieres.
Done last April at The Friary, Liverpool, England, the recordings project a broad, deep soundstage in a reverberant acoustic. Depending on your system settings, audiophiles may find the sonic image perceptibly skewed to the left. The instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, a musical midrange, and transient bass.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P151027)
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