CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 DECEMBER 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.
Eggert, J.: Syms 1 & 3, Mohrene i Spanien Ov, Svante Sture Inc Music; Korsten/Gävle SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Eggert, J.: Syms 2 & 4, Sym 4 Alt 2nd Mvmt; Korsten/Gävle SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Those who love Swedish composer Franz Berwald's (1796-1858) symphonies (1842-5) are in for a real treat with these two recent Naxos releases having all four of the ones completed some thirty-five years earlier (c. 1804-10) by his older compatriot Joachim Eggert (1779-1813). As a bonus we also get an alternate version of the slow movement from the last of these, and some of his incidental theater music. Five of the seven selections are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
Born on the German Island of Rügen in the Baltic, Joachim would study music on the mainland and begin his career there in 1802. However, he'd leave after only six months to work for the Russian Imperial Chapel in St. Petersburg. Unfortunately he only got as far as Stockholm when he was overtaken by a serious illness. Then upon his recovery, he secured a position as a violinist with the Royal Court Orchestra of Sweden.
This was the beginning of a distinguished musical career, during which he established himself as a progressive conductor. In that regard he was the first to program Beethoven's (1770-1827) orchestral works in Sweden.
Eggert also gained a reputation as an up-and-coming composer, and in retrospect his colorful scoring sets his symphonic music apart from that of his contemporaries. It makes one sad to learn he never finished a fifth symphony he'd just started prior to his untimely death from tuberculosis at the age of thirty-four.
The disc pictured to the left [DL] begins with his overture for a Swedish production of the play Mohrene i Spanien (The Moors in Spain; no date given) [DL, T-1]. Lasting only about two and a half minutes this is a razzle-dazzle curtain raiser, recalling the Janissary music in Mozart's (1756-1791) Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782).
It's followed by the three-movement third symphony of 1807. The initial one is in classic sonata form [DL, T-2], and begins with a brooding introduction [00:00] somewhat reminiscent of Beethoven's (1770-1827) first symphony (1800). Then the mood brightens as we get the exposition (E3) that starts with a flirtatious frisky tune (FF) [01:41] foreshadowing lighter moments in the youthful symphonies of Schubert (1797-1828) and Mendelssohn (1809-1847).
FF is briefly manipulated and followed by a winsome lyrical melody [02:59]. Then there's a bridging passage [03:49] with catchy Beethoven-like riffs [04:21]. This concludes E3, which is repeated [04:46] and succeeded by a masterful development [07:52].
The reappearance of FF [10:06] announces the recapitulation. It terminates in an FF-related coda [12:39], ending things not with a bang but a whimper.
The last two movements are based on some funeral music the composer wrote two years earlier for a Swedish Duke. That would certainly explain the somber "Marche: Grave" [DL, T-3], whose main idea (MI) [00:00] brings to mind the entrance of Sarastro and his priests beginning the second act of Mozart's Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791; see 29 October 2010).
A slight variant of MI serves as the subject for the concluding "Fugue..." [DL, T-4], where Eggert shows himself a consummate contrapuntalist. This starts off solemnly, suddenly shifts into high gear [01:14], and then the movement ends in the same mood it began.
More incidental music is next in the form of eight orchestral tidbits the composer wrote for an 1812 Swedish drama entitled Svante Sture (WPR). It's about a 16th century Swedish count of that name, who was imprisoned and murdered by mad King Erik XIV (1533-1577).
The first number is a courtly march just for woodwinds [DL, T-5] presumably from the first act. Then we get the lyrical entr'acte [DL, T-6] and vivacious postlude [DL, T-7] that surround Act II. The former has a charming bassoon solo, and the other is followed by another entr'acte [DL, T-8], which is a regal march.
The third act is represented by two more marches. The first of these [DL, T-9] serves as a perky prelude. The second [DL, T-10] appears in the act, and has outer sections closely related to the former number. They surround a reverent chorale [01:37-02:37] apparently associated with an attempt by some nuns to save Svante from the King.
This suite of incidentals concludes with the entr'actes preceding each of the last two acts. These are respectively romantic [DL, T-11], and march-like [DL, T-12]. The latter with its festive trumpets and horns ends this delightful musical smorgasbord on a martial note.
Filling out the CD we get the first symphony of 1804-5 (WPR), which is in the usual four movements. The initial one [DL, T-13] is structurally identical to that opening the symphony above, and also has a portentous, furrow-browed Beethoven introduction [00:00].
The exposition (E1) starts with a busy bubbly tune (BB) [01:57], which undergoes a bass-drum-accented exploration. Then there's a pastoral, songlike second idea [03:03]. It's followed by a bridging passage [03:49] with curious chattering riffs [beginning at 04:14]. This concludes E1, which is repeated [04:23] and succeeded by an engaging development [06:51].
The return of BB [08:27] leads into the recapitulation that gives rise to a BB-based coda [10:27]. This has more of those bass drum thwacks, and ends the movement matter-of-factly.
The andante [DL, T-14] is a theme and variations that begins with a comely country dance main subject [00:00]. It's followed by a pugnacious variant [01:08], and then a songlike one [02:15]. The latter ends with flute calls that introduce the third and final variation [03:31].
This is a colorful fife-and-drum-like march [03:31] that could be out of the American Revolution (1775-1783). Maybe the composer got the idea from the second movement of Haydn's (1732-1809) Military Symphony (No. 100, 1793-4).
Next we get a minuet and trio that amount to a scherzo [DL, T-15]. Here whimsical, lurching minuet outer sections, which seem headed towards Mendelssohn (1809-1847), surround a demure trio [01:32-02:46] with a coy retiring theme.
Then the final allegro [DL, T-16] seems to take up where the second movement left off. It's a singular Eggert creation that begins with a twitchy racing idea (TR) [00:00]. Next there's a folksy melody (FM) [00:58] borrowed from an old Swedish popular song known as Gustafs skål (Gustav's Toast, 1772).
Some flighty Haydnesque military machinations follow [01:30], succeeded by a pensive passage built around a minor key amalgamation of TR and FM [02:14]. This leads to a thrilling developmental episode [02:55] with arresting drum rolls.
As if that weren't enough, then there's a frenetic fugue with FM as its subject [04:39]. This dies away as if to end this remarkable symphony. But as the audience prepares to give the composer a standing ovation, the music breaks out again at its wildest yet in a manic, FM-based final coda. Eggert must have had a good sense of humor!
Both of these releases feature the Gävle Symphony Orchestra (GSO) under Gérard Korsten. They were recorded by the same production staff at the GSO Concert Hall in Gävle, Sweden, some 100 miles north of Stockholm. Consequently comments regarding the performances and sound will be found at the end of this article.
Turning to the disc on the right (DR), the first selection is Eggert's four-movement, fourth symphony probably composed around 1810 (WPR). Although not identified as such, it may be the "War and Peace" one he was said to have written. That would explain the interplay of halcyon and combative passages present throughout.
The initial movement [DR, T-1] like those in the above symphonies is a sonata form structure with an ominous introduction [00:00]. Its exposition (E4) begins with a worried idea (WI) [02:24] leading to a soothing countersubject (SC) [03:13] and an elaborative passage. This ends E4, which is then repeated [04:43] and followed by a vibrant development [07:01].
The latter gets rather aggressive with more of those militant Eggert drum strokes [09:11], and closes with melancholy hints of SC [09:48]. Then after a brief pause SC is recapped in full [09:59], prefacing a driving WI-based coda [11:09]. This concludes the movement in warlike fashion.
The strange adagio [DR, T-2] is a curious programmatic Eggert creation that seems to tell a story. Moreover, the beginning conjures up restful pastoral images [00:00] soon followed by an isolated, massive stroke on the bass drum [01:19]. This must represent a canon shot considering the martial episode that's next.
This is a pugnacious percussion-laced marching tune [01:26] making it easy to imagine an army overrunning the countryside. The invaders then move on, and the opening measures reappear [04:39], ending the movement in the same mood it began.
The composer returns to the classical period for the next minuet and trio [DR, T-3]. The outside minuet sections are built on a proud strutting Haydnesque dance ditty with a couple of explosive chords like those in his Surprise Symphony (No. 94, 1791). The graceful central trio [01:02-02:10] has a charming Mozartian melody with swaying solo clarinet and violin descants.
A trumpeting cavalry-like motif (TC) [00:00] that will recur in rondo fashion sets the finale [DR-T-4] in motion. It's succeeded by an innocent childlike tune [00:03], and alternates with passages that are sequentially pacific [00:14], belligerent [00:24], and dancelike [01:15].
TC then makes two more appearances. The first is followed by a fugal skirmish based on it [02:52], whereas the second introduces a more reserved offering [05:53]. Both have percussive big gun effects. Then TC is the ammunition for a final coda [07:35] that ends the symphony at war with two last canon shots.
An alternate largo version of the above adagio (no date given; WPR) is next [DR-T-5]. It's a lovely vocalise for winds with an amorous melody auguring Brahms set to a caressing accompaniment.
Filling out the disc we get the four-movement second symphony of 1806 (WPR) [DR, T-6]. Unlike those above, it begins amicably with a comely flowing theme (CF) [00:00] introduced on the bassoon. This is followed by a frenetic volatile subject (FV) [01:49] that surrounds a CF-related countersubject (CC) [02:04]. Then there's a jolly hiccupping number (JH) [03:03] portending early Schubert.
The FV-CC-JH nexus is repeated [04:12], after which we get a tuneful development [05:28] ā la Hummel (1778-1837, see 30 January 2008). The return of JH [09:04] announces a dynamic melee of past ideas that ends the movement excitedly.
An andante follows [DR, T-7], and begins with a CF-related retiring tune (CR) [00:00] whose scoring recalls the opening of the fourth symphony's alternate second movement (see above). It's restated over a distinctive walking bass line [01:21], and then alternates with an anguished version of itself [01:56]. The foregoing is repeated a couple of times to different accompaniments, the last of which ends the movement peacefully.
Like the symphony above, this one's third movement is a minuet and trio [DR, T-8]. The outer sections are a simple dance [00:00] with timpanic martial flourishes [01:11, 01:56 and 04:08]. While the inner trio is a valiant brass-dominated march [01:57-03:10].
The sonata form last movement's exposition (E2) begins with a subdued timpani tattoo [00:00], again showing Eggert's predilection for drums. A sober keening theme (SK) quickly follows [00:03], and bridges into a happy-go-lucky idea (HL) [01:02]. This is elaborated ending E2, which is then repeated [02:25], and succeeded by a yearning development [04:50].
The recapitulation begins elatedly with the return of HL [07:10]. Then SK is hinted at towards its end [08:18], concluding the symphony on a more serious note.
Having celebrated its 100th anniversary back in 2012, the GSO is one of Sweden's oldest orchestras. What's more under South-African-born, US-European-trained conductor Gérard Korsten, it comes off as among that country's finest. Moreover, he gets consistently enthusiastic, committed performances from its members of some exceptional music by one of their undeservedly neglected countryman.
The recordings made in November 2009 and March 2014 consistently project a wide, well-focused soundstage in an ideal acoustic. The instrumental timbre is characterized by clear, somewhat brittle highs, a lifelike midrange, and clean lows that include passages riddled with articulate bass drum strokes.
We should also note there are some isolated thumps on both discs occasioned by an animated conductor on a timpanic podium. Taking all this into account, while the recordings are generally commendable, they fall a trifle short of an audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P151231, P151230)
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Gernsheim: Vn Concs 1 & 2, Fantasiestücke (vn & orch); Roth/Zurl/Ham Sym [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
A number of chamber pieces by Friedrich Gernsheim (1839-1916) have appeared in these pages (see 30 September 2012), but to date only a single orchestral work. It was one of four romantic cello concertos by different German composers, which surfaced on a Hyperion release a few years ago (see 28 April 2007).
Many who got that found Friedrich's a remarkable discovery and the most interesting there. So we're happy to tell you about this new CPO disc with all three of his symphonic works featuring the violin. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Chronologically, the single movement Fantasiestück (Fantasy) for Violin and Orchestra [T-4] published in 1876 came first. After a couple of soft orchestral chords the violin plays an exquisite melody, showing what a superb tunesmith Gernsheim was. This is explored with a modicum of virtuosic frippery, and the work ends as unassumingly as it began. The influence of Brahms (1833-1897), who was a friend, is apparent.
The first violin concerto of 1880 is in three movements, the initial one being an allegro. It begins with the orchestra playing another comely Gernsheim theme CG [00:01] with timpani-accents reminiscent of those opening Beethoven's (1770-1827) only effort in the genre (1806). This builds to a climax, after which the soloist picks up on CG.
The tuneful exploration that's next has a couple of additional attractive ideas. These are interspersed with some tutti outbursts and virtuosic violin passages.
It also has a lengthy demanding cadenza [06:23-08:13], after which we get a dramatic Brahmsian reworking of previous material. Then there's a colorful sequential bridge into a CG recap [12:00] that's the basis for an affecting conclusion.
The middle andante affettuoso (flowing and loving) [T-2] is a pensive contemplation of a sinuous theme with a brief splash of cadenza [05:34-6:00]. Then Friedrich contrasts this movement with an energetic sonata form, final allegro [T-3].
It begins with a quirky skittish number (QS) somewhat akin to the main theme in the last movement of Brahms' violin concerto (1878). It's briefly explored, and followed by a lyrical CG-related countersubject [01:54]. Then the two are deftly developed with frequent outbreaks of fancy fiddling. The return of QS [07:10] announces the recapitulation and concluding coda. The latter is decorated with some antsy QS figurations [07:45], and ends the work in good spirits.
Some thirty years later Gernsheim would compose his second and last violin concerto (1912), which is significantly more sophisticated than its predecessor. In three conjoined movements lasting almost ten minutes less than the earlier work, there's greater structural continuity. Also the soloist and tutti remain closely integrated throughout, while harmonically it's more adventurous, bringing to mind the music of Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949).
The initial allegro [T-5] gets off to an elated start with the orchestra and violin presenting a majestic soaring theme (MS) [00:01]. It's immediately succeeded by violin figurations leading to an early cadenza [00:52-01:54]. This introduces a glorious, stream-of-consciousness development spiced with bravura violin embellishments.
It includes a wistful version of MS (WM) [02:56] that's explored. In the process there are a couple of agitated spots with cadence-like passages. The last of these ends on a stratospheric note followed by a brief pause. Then we get a delightful sequential bridge [05:26] with poignant pizzicato segueing into the next andante cantabile (flowing and songlike) [T-6].
Here an expressive orchestral statement accented with timpani taps introduces a rapturous WM-related aria for the violin [00:36]. It's set to a caressing tutti accompaniment with more pizzicato, and builds to a passionate climax that quickly abates. Then there are some melancholy afterthoughts for soloist and orchestra [04:18]. These end in a curt violin cadenza [06:14-06:36] followed by supportive strings.
They immediately launch into the final allegro [T-7] with initial hints of a rhythmically perky theme (RP) that the soloist soon states in full [00:12]. A brief virtuosic commentary follows, and then a lyrical RP-related motif [01:30].
This pops up with rondoesque frequency throughout the succeeding development. Then a frenzied fiddle-laced coda made all the more colorful with some tintinnabular percussion brings the concerto to an ebullient ending.
German violinist Linus Roth makes a strong case for these too long forgotten pieces. His tone is superb with only an occasional intonationally questionable moment. The Hamburg Symphony under Johannes Zurl couldn't be more supportive. They provide that little extra touch, which turns what could be everyday concert fare into a highly memorable listening experience.
The Hamburg Music School's Miralles Hall was the location for these recordings. They project a modest soundstage commensurate with the conventional forces present in a venue ideally suited to them.
The violin is well captured and balanced against the tutti, while the instrumental timbre is very lifelike. Gernsheim's conservative scoring precludes this disc from being a sonic spectacular, but a well-defined, clearly focused sonic image makes what's here demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y151229)
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Hill, Alf.: Stg Qts V6 (15, 16 "Celtic" & 17); Dominion Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The concluding volume in Naxos' invaluable survey of Australian composer Alfred Hill's (1869-1960; see 15 December 2014) seventeen string quartets gives us his last three written in 1937-8. Like Langgaard (1893-1952; see 15 December 2014), Hill sometimes reworked his older works into newer ones, and the last quartet would later appear in orchestral guise as his Short Symphony (No. 10, 1958). All of these are world premiere recordings and most welcome additions to the genre!
First off we get the fifteenth of 1937, which is in four movements. The generally dark demeanor of the opening one [T-1] may bring to mind the second movement of Schubert's (1797-1828) Death and the Maiden Quartet (No. 14, D810; 1824). Here a couple of comely melodies are explored, and then the movement ends with dramatic reminders of them.
Two captivating lyrical ones follow, beginning with a "Canzona" [T-2]. This is based on a tune rooted in the Aeolian mode, which gives it a folkish feel. Then there's a "Serenade" [T-3] having whole tone underpinnings that impart an impressionistic mien.
The final allegretto [T-4] resembles a scherzo whose outer sections have a klatch of merry melodies, which dance around one another. They surround a curt introspective passage [02:43-03:09] recalling the mood of the first movement, and then end the work on a cheery note.
Hill would complete his last two quartets the following year. The sixteenth (1938) is in four movements like its predecessor, but loaded with Irish folk melodies, which explains its "Celtic" subtitle. These are apparent right from the start of the first movement [T-5], where rhapsodic Hibernian passages alternate with jiglike ones [02:04, 07:24].
The "Shule Aura: Adagio" [T-6; should read "Shule Agra: Adagio"] is based on the melody [01:13] for the seventeenth century Irish song "Shule Agra". This is a heartfelt contemplation with some fervent violin solos.
It couldn't be more different from the next "Jig" [T-7], where it's easy to imagine comely couples prancing around some Irish dance hall. The festivities continue in the fetching finale [T-8], which like many of Dvorák's chamber works seems to draw on folk material, but of Celtic rather than Czech origin. Here spirited passages surround an ardent inner one [01:49-03:57], and end the quartet merrily.
The seventeenth (1938) is in just three movements, the first [T-9] having a nubilous introduction that gives way to a radiant melody. This is developed, and after a chromatically searching sequence, returns to end the movement complaisantly.
A whole-tone-spiced "Introduction and Serenade" follows [T-10], whose opening recalls that of the previous movement. A wistful Schubertian rocking tune comes next and is the subject of its conclusion.
However, skies brighten in the finale [T-11] that begins with a couple of Hill's most loveable melodic creations. These are explored and recur in more antsy fashion. Then the quartet ends affably paying homage to Dvorák by quoting that old familiar tune [04:29-04:38] from the first movement of his New World Symphony (No. 9, 1893).
As on the previous five CDs the New-Zealand-based Dominion Quartet is featured here (see 15 December 2014). However, this time around they give us consistently superb performances of these works. Their playing is technically accomplished and enthusiastic, but also highly sensitive without becoming excessively romantic in Hill's more tender moments.
These recordings were made last year, again in the music room of Park Road Post Production, Wellington, New Zealand. Careful placement of the musicians and microphones has produced a better balanced soundstage than on the previous disc (see 15 December 2014). Also, the acoustics seem more enriching, thereby giving us a superior string sound with lucent highs, lifelike mids and clean lows. Audiophile chamber music enthusiasts will be pleased.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y151228)
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Kaun: Oct (cl, hn, bsn, 2 vns, va & vc), Pno Qnt, Stg Qnt (2 vcs); BerolEn [MD&G (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 SACD)
This enterprising MD&G release will introduce you to some outstanding chamber music by Hugo Kaun (1863-1932). He was born and trained in Berlin, studying with Friedrich Kiel (1821-1885, see 27 February 2008). Unlike many European composers who fled to America in the 1930s with the rise of Nazism, Hugo emigrated to the US back in 1887, seeking better opportunities.
He'd settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which was home to a thriving German community, where he'd spend the next fourteen years, establishing himself as a highly regarded choir master and composer. He would also become an associate of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra's first two conductors, Theodore Thomas and Frederick Stock. Through their concerts he'd introduce American audiences to works by Bruckner (1824-1896) and Brahms (1833-1897), as well as his own.
However, Kaun had strong ties to the Vaterland, and returned to Berlin in 1902. He'd spend the rest of his life there as a highly successful teacher and civil servant. His death came just nine months before Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power.
A prolific composer, Hugo wrote works in every genre. Three in the chamber category, all products of his American years, fill this new MD&G hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), release. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The concert begins with his four-movement Brahmsian piano quintet (Op. 39, 1901). The first marked "Ruhig, mit Empfindung" ("Tranquil, with feeling") [T-1] is an overcast offering that ends with a hint of sunshine [06:05].
The next "Intermezzo. Sehr rasch, geheimnisvoll" ("Intermezzo. Very quick, full of mystery") [T-2] amounts to a scherzo, and is as advertised. Here scampering outer sections with jagged ideas of Schumann (1810-1856) heritage surround a chromatically enigmatic central one [02:42-04:18].
A meltingly beautiful song without words marked "Einfach, mit innigster Empfindung" ("Humble, with deep feeling") [T-3] follows. Then the work concludes with "Markig, leidenschaftlich bewegt" ("Robust, passionately moving") [T-4].
Here searching passages [00:00] give way to a dark rocking theme [00:34], which undergoes an initially despairing development. It then turns optimistic, giving birth to a lovely consoling melody (LC) [04:54]. This is manipulated and succeeded by some keyboard fireworks [06:02]. These introduce an LC-big-tune coda that ends the work exultantly.
The octet of 1891 that's next is his opus 26 and not 34 as sometimes listed. Scored for clarinet, horn, bassoon, two violins, viola, cello and double bass, it's a one-movement work [T-5] in two conjoined sections. These are respectively indicated as "Langsam, mit Ausdruck" ("Slow with expression") and "Leidenschaftlich schnell" ("Passionately fast").
Along the lines of a theme and variations, it's a series of related episodes consummately blended into one another. There's a wide range of tempos, and in that regard the composer apparently thought the piece should be performed with a conductor to insure its overall rhythmic integrity.
The work opens with a brooding seed motif [00:00]. This grows into three transformations that are sequentially agitated [01:16], rapturous (RT) [02:27], and lullaby-like (LT) [04:06]. Then we get a hesitant variant (HV) [05:09] followed by a sorrowful one [06:26]. The latter pair alternate, and transition into the work's second part.
This begins with a forceful HV-related motif (FH) [09:57] that gives way to a winsome lyrical number (WL) announced by the winds [11:04]. It's succeeded by the return of FH [12:48], and then a WL-derived searching melody (LS) [13:49] worthy of a Dvorák (1841-1904) late symphony. LS is followed by reminders of RT [13:49] and LT [14:59], ending the work nostalgically.
Closing out this disc we have Kaun's string quintet dating from 1898, which is his opus 28 and not 39 as sometimes listed. Like Schubert's (1797-1828) late effort in the genre (Op. 163, D956; 1826) it's scored for an additional cello rather than viola, and is in four movements.
The first is in sonata form [T-6] with an austere opening (AO) [00:00] hinting at a grasping motif (GM) soon introduced by a cello [01:09]. GM is explored giving way to a romantic countermelody (RC) [03:35], which bridges into a GM-introduced development [04:18]. This includes a reminder of RC [05:08], which is rhapsodized, and bits of GM [beginning at 06:47] that are chromatically juggled about. Then AO begins a curt recap coda [09:33] that ends the movement with a final emphatic GM gesture.
The scherzo [T-7] has peppy cello-chugging outer passages that surround a berceuse [01:43-02:45], while the following adagio [T-8] is based on a heartfelt songlike melody (HS) [00:21]. It received much critical acclaim when the quintet was performed in Germany following Kaun's return, and many may find it the work's high point.
The final allegro [T-9] begins with a four-note rhythmic riff [00:00] that will recur with rondo regularity. It's also the starting point for a couple of delightful melodies. These chase each other about, and at two points give way to relaxed hints of HS [01:38 and 02:15]. Then they resume their pursuit of one another, concluding the quintet with agitated finality.
Known for ferreting out works by late classical and romantic composers that have undeservedly disappeared from concert halls, it's an honor to welcome the Berolina Ensemble back to these pages (see 9 April 2014). As before they give us more superb performances of exceptional discoveries. Kaun couldn't be better represented.
MD&G once again lives up to its reputation for giving us some of today's finest sounding chamber music releases. Made over the past two years at the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) in Abtei Marienmünster (Marienmünster Abbey), Germany, the recordings present consistent, suitably proportioned soundstages in warm surroundings.
The strings are naturally bright throughout, particularly on the CD track. As for the piano and winds, they're well balanced against them, and convincingly captured in all three play modes. The SACD multichannel one gives the music more "Atemsraum", and will particularly appeal to those liking a richer sound. Audiophile chamber music lovers can't go wrong with this.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y151227)
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Taneyev, S.: Oresteia (cpte opera); Galushkina/Dubrovkin/Kolomiytseva/Belarus St BolshTh C&O [Melodiya]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
A man of extraordinary intellectual capacity, Sergei Ivanovich Taneyev (1856-1915) was one of the only Russian composers to have a thorough understanding of Western cultural traditions. In that regard he was an authority on counterpoint, and gained a reputation as a gifted pianist, outstanding music theorist, eminent author, and distinguished teacher.
His academic associations were impressive considering his mentors included Tchaikovsky (1840-1893; see 31 October 2009) and piano virtuoso Nikolai Rubinstein (1835-1881), who was Anton's (1829-1894, see 6 October 2014) younger brother. As for his students, he taught such greats as Scriabin (1872-1915), Rachmaninov (1873-1943), Medtner (1880-1951) and Myaskovski (1881-1950; see 15 March 2007).
Previously we've told you about some of Sergei's string quartets (see 31 July 2013), and those liking them who don't already have the operatic blockbuster released here, will want to consider getting it. A 1965 Russian Melodiya stereophonic, studio recording, which last appeared on LP in 1979, it has well stood the test of time, and comes off sounding better than before. It's the only version of this exceptional opera currently available.
Composed between 1887 and 1894, the libretto (currently unavailable) by Alexei Wenckstein (no further information provided) is based on Aeschylus' (c. 525 - c. 455 BC) anthology of Greek tragedies known as the Oresteia (458 BC). Originally there were four plays, but the last titled Proteus has been lost, leaving the trilogy known in order as Agamemnon, The Choęphoroi (The Libation-bearers) and The Eumenides (The Furies). They're the subjects of the opera's three acts, which the composer titled accordingly.
Taneyev adheres very closely to their plots (see the album synopsis), which are so complex there's only enough room here to get into their key points. Also taking a lesson from Wagner (1813-1883), he uses over thirty leitmotifs, but we'll only consider the major ones.
The opera takes place in the twelfth century BC just after the Trojan War of Greek mythology. A foreboding introduction [D-1, T-1] with an ominous gong crash opens Agamemnon, which is in two tableaux. Both are set in Argos, Greece, at the palace of Atreus, who was the former king and Agamemnon's father.
The opening scene is at night, and there's an aria for a guard [D-1, T-2], in which he sings about the long war with Troy. Then fires are seen on nearby hills, which he joyfully tells us mean the Greeks have won, and are returning home with King Agamemnon. There's a verse set to a motif [03:26-04:17] that anticipates the hymn of vengeance, which we'll hear in the next act.
Then slave girls enter with a lovely song of thanksgiving to Zeus for the Greek victory [D-1, T-3], and are followed by Agamemnon's Queen Clytemnestra along with the citizens of Argos. A triumphant mixed number for the people, Queen and her retinue follows [D-1, T-4].
But things turn sinister in the next scene as Aegisthus, who's Agamemnon's cousin and now the Queen's lover, enters. He has a dramatic recitative [D-1, T-5 and 6] relating grizzly details about how Agamemnon's father rose to power, which include infanticide and involuntary cannibalism! He then goes on to say he wants to kill him but is incapable of murder, and resolves to flee.
At this point Clytemnestra comes in [D-1, T-7], and sings an amorous line set to a loving Tchaikovsky-like phrase [00:06-00:32]. The two then engage in a moving duet of intrigue where the Queen says she'll kill the returning King, recalling his sacrifice of their daughter Iphigenia to the Greek goddess Artemis. This ends the first tableau portentously.
The concluding one takes place on a bright sunny day in front of the palace. It begins with a commanding march for chorus and orchestra smacking of Elgar (1857-1934) [D-1, T-8] as Agamemnon enters with his warriors. He's also accompanied by Cassandra, who's the daughter of Troy's defeated King Priam and now Agamemnon's concubine-slave. There's a soaring aria for him [D-1, T-9] where he tells about the war with some choral support from his soldiers.
After that the conniving Queen comes on stage hypocritically welcoming him home [D-1, T-10], and after a dramatic duet of reunion, Agamemnon enters the palace. Clytemnestra then addresses Cassandra contemptuously [D-1, T-11], and follows him inside.
Cassandra falls into a trance, and there's an exciting ensemble number with chorus [D-1, T12 and 13]. In it she sings a rousing aria [04:14-05:26] that's one of those prophecies she's so famous for. She foretells the death of the King as well as her own at the hands of the Queen. Then goes on to predict Clytemnestra and Agamemnon's son Orestes, who was sent away during the war, will return to avenge his father's murder.
A lovely orchestral passage introduces the next scene, in which we hear Agamemnon's dying screams [D-1, T-14]. Then with great shrieks from the chorus, we see his body along with Cassandra's lying inside the palace.
An imperious orchestral introduction accompanies the reappearance of the Queen with sword in hand. She sings a defiant aria to a shocked crowd of citizens explaining her mariticide as retribution for the past misdeeds of Atreus and Agamemnon [D-1, T-15]. Then Aegisthus enters gloating over his cousin's death, and proclaims himself the new ruler [D-1, T-16]. But the crowd will have none of it, and the act ends with them indignantly calling for a day of vengeance, and invoking the name of Orestes.
The next one titled The Choęphoroi (The Libation-bearers) has three tableaux. The first is at night in Clytemnestra's palace bedroom, and begins with dark orchestral passages as we see her wandering about. She soon delivers a troubled recitative and aria [D-1, T-17] where we learn she's unable to sleep as she's visited every eventide by Agamemnon's ghost. His apparition suddenly appears and in an eerie echoing voice predicts her death at the hand of Orestes [D-1, T-18].
She desperately screams for help, and slave girls along with Orestes' sister Electra excitedly enter fearing the worst. In a moving aria [D-1, T-19] the Queen begs Electra to pour libations on her husband's grave, and implore the gods to save her. This becomes a gorgeous ensemble number worthy of late Wagner. In it Electra promises to do as requested, but at heart intends to ask them for revenge instead of mercy.
The second tableau takes place at dawn in an olive grove. Agamemnon's tomb, a pillar to the god Hermes, who protects travelers, and the royal palace are seen nearby. Enter Orestes dressed as a wanderer. He's been ordered by Apollo to avenge his father's death, and in an exhilarant aria [D-2, T-1] thanks Hermes for his safe return.
Hearing the approach of the Queen's slave girls and Electra bearing sacrifices [D-2, T-2], he hides. His sister pours libations on the gravesite, asking the gods to avenge her father's death, and bring her brother home [D-2, T-3]. Orestes then makes himself known, and an overjoyed Electra falls into his arms.
A sublime duet with choral support follows [D-2, T-4], and Orestes breaks into a hymn of vengeance [D-2, T-5] set to a stirring motif (HV) [00:40-01:37] made all the more arresting by some celestial glissandi on the celesta. The siblings continue cursing Clytemnestra and Aegisthus along with more choral support, bringing the tableau to a thrilling close.
The third and final one is the same setting but at sunset in front of the palace. It begins with Orestes knocking on the gates, which we hear represented in the orchestra [D-2, T-6]. A slave opens them, and he tells him to summon the royal couple as he has important news for them.
Clytemnestra and Aegisthus, who don't recognize Orestes, appear along with Electra, and a complicit quartet ensues [D-2, T-7]. In it Orestes asks to spend the night, and tells the Queen her son is dead. At heart she's greatly relieved to hear it, but sheds some crocodile tears, and then the others retire to their respective quarters.
Suddenly a slave dashes out crying Aegisthus has been murdered [D-2, T-8]! The Queen now realizes the stranger is Orestes and her end is soon at hand. He then appears to tragic brass-accented fanfares [D-2, T-9], and we get a touching duet for them.
There are tender moments here with an underlying melody recalling her motherly love for him as a child (ML) [02:42-03:13]. Then she pleads for mercy warning him if he commits matricide he'll wander forever pursued by the Erinyes (Furies), which anticipates the succeeding last act.
But all to no avail as he drags Clytemnestra into the palace and kills her! A grief-stricken chorus for her slave girls follows, and Orestes reappears [D-2, T-10] singing a line to ML [00:25-00:48]. Then the palace interior begins to glow with a deep crimson light [01:17].
Orestes becomes panic-stricken to the strains of haunting female voices. These are the Furies, who are already after him as Mommy had forewarned. The act concludes with him dashing off, and a fateful chorus ending in ominous forte chords.
The opera's closing act entitled The Eumenides (The Furies) is also in three tableaux. The first starts with a stormy orchestral entr'acte, and finds Orestes along a bleak, deserted shoreline pursued by the Furies [D-2, T-11]. Terrifying harpylike creatures with Medusa heads, they've been tormenting him to the point of madness ever since he killed his mother.
He wants to jump into the sea, but they restrain him, and he sings asking for Apollo's help. At one point we hear some lines set to ML [03:39-04:26], after which his assailants resume their pestiferous onslaught. Finally he decides he must visit Apollo's temple in Delphi to seek his intervention, and sets out with them in hot pursuit, ending the tableau direfully.
A stunning entr'acte that's an opera high point and the composer's best remembered concert piece is the curtain raiser for the next one [D-2, T-12]. Shimmering strings with harp embellishments preface a drop-dead version of the HV motif [02:14-02:54] (see above). This momentarily fades, and then builds to a blazing climax revealing the temple altar bathed in gleaming golden shafts of light.
Orestes rushes in and delivers an aria pleading for Apollo's help, after which we hear those unrelenting Furies [D-2, T-13]. Then there's some hot cymbal brush work as the god appears and takes him under his wing, ordering his tormentors to leave.
In a moving number with hints of HV [beginning at 01:56] he tells Orestes his case will be decided by the twelve judges, or Areopagites, of the Areopagus in Athens. This was the Classical Greek predecessor of today's high courts.
He also commands Orestes to go to Athens, and wait for their verdict at the altar of Athena, goddess of wisdom. The tableau concludes with him praising Apollo, who disappears to more cymbal licks. Orestes full of hope for better days then prepares to leave.
The setting for the last tableau is a moonlit night in Athens. To the left we see the Acropolis shrouded in clouds, and on the right, an olive grove with Orestes at Athena's altar. A crowd of citizens is in the foreground, and at a distance there's a mound of massive boulders where the Areopagites are sitting in judgement of him.
After some stately orchestral passages [D-2, T-14] the people sing a rousing chorus praising Athena's wisdom. It's followed by an anxious outburst from Orestes who's awaiting the court's decision. One of the Areopagites then approaches and we learn the court is evenly divided on his case.
A severely shaken Orestes falls to his knees once again pleading for Apollo's help, which initiates the opera's marvelous closing ensemble number [D-2, T-15], where there are references to some of its best motifs. It begins with shimmering strings and a hushed chorus as Athena clad in gold armor descends from the clouds, and stands behind the altar. In an affecting aria [01:30], she declares her desire for a just and lenient verdict.
Then exercising her status as a god, she casts a thirteenth vote exonerating him. Now released from all guilt, Orestes and everyone gathered join in a rousing final chorus praising Athena [05:34]. It's also a paean to a future for mankind where there's no more hatred or need for vengeance. The melody is appropriately a transformed version of HV (see above).
A standout Russian cast features sopranos Nelly Tkachenko (Cassandra), Tamara Shimko (Electra) and Ludmilla Ganestova (Athena); and mezzo-soprano Lydia Galushkina (Clytemnestra). Then there are tenors Ivan Dubrovkin (Orestes) and Arkady Savchenko (Apollo); baritone Anatoly Bokov (Aegisthus); and basses Stanislav Frolov (A Guard and An Areopagite), Victor Chernobayev (Agamemnon and His Ghost), along with Michail Pushkaryov (A Slave).
All are in fine voice and deliver totally committed performances in their respective roles. They receive splendid support from the Belarus State Bolshoi Theater Chorus and Orchestra under conductor Tatiana Kolomytseva despite what sound like a couple of brass boo-boos.
There's no information regarding the recording location, but it must have been at the Bolshoi Theater in Minsk, Belarus. The sonic image projected is pinched and in a recessed reverberant space. Still the overall sound is functional with the solo voices appropriately highlighted and balanced against the orchestra, as are the many choruses.
The instrumental timbre as well as the voice quality is bright with a fuzzy upper edge, cluttered midrange, and sparse bass. This is typical of Soviet recordings from the 1960s, and undoubtedly not helped by what must have been aging analogue, ferric-oxide master tapes. We should also note there are a couple of less than ideal edit spots, and some low frequency murmurs probably due to nearby city traffic.
However, we're lucky to have what's here, and Russian opera enthusiasts will soon forget any audio shortcomings. One final note, those liking this should also investigate a recent Naxos release of Darius Milhaud's (1892-1924) Oresteia (1913-23).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P151226)
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