CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 MAY 2016
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.
Braunfels: Don Gil...: Prel & Ste; Die Vögel (exc); Constk (pno); Seren; Lane/Wildner/BBCCon O [Dutton (Hybrid)]
RECOMMENDED (1 SACD)
German composer Walter Braunfels is fast becoming a CLOFO regular, and with good reason considering the quality of his music (see 28 February 2016). This Dutton hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2), release gives us five more of his symphonic works (see 23 June 2014) written between 1910 and 1946. They represent a good cross-section of his orchestral output, and three are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
We noted earlier (see 27 February 2008) that Walter began his career as one of Germany's most highly regarded opera composers. He'd produce ten of them during his lifetime, and our program begins with a delightful sampling of orchestral music associated with his fourth titled Don Gil von der grünen Hosen (Don Gil of the Green Breeches, 1921-3; not currently available on disc),
Based on Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina's (1579-1648) eponymous comedy (1615), it had an extremely successful Munich premiere (1924). However, at least one critic found the libretto fell dramatically short of the play. What's more, the composer later stated the opera didn't turn out as lighthearted as he originally intended.
Despite that, the music was highly praised, and this release gets off to a tuneful start with the prelude (WPR) [T-1]. Here capriciously heroic passages enclose a winsome romantic one [04:14-05:24], and end the piece exultantly. Some may find a distant similarity to the third act prelude in Wagner's (1813-1883) Lohengrin (1847).
Then we get a six-movement suite (WPR) the composer came up with not long after the opera's premiere. A tuneful, charming creation drawn from its dances and melodies, it opens with "Zwischenspiel" ("Interlude") [T-2]. This begins festively, and features an exotic Spanish folk ditty [02:07].
The next three movements are attractive numbers titled "Savoyardenlied" ("Savoyards' Song") [T-3], "Arietta" ("Aria") [T-4], and "Lied" ("Song") [T-5]. These are respectively lullaby-like, ruminative, and amorous. They're followed by another "Zwischenspiel" ("Interlude") [T-6], but this time around it's a brilliantly scored, effusive number.
The suite concludes with an antsy, arresting "Finale" [T-7] based on another Spanish folk melody. This will be familiar to many as it's the same one Édouard Lalo (1823-1892) borrowed for the recurring theme in the final rondo of his Symphonie espagnole (1873).
Moving ahead almost twenty-five years, the next selection is Braunfels' Concertstück (Concert Piece) for piano and orchestra (1946; WPR), which is the most progressive work here. Technically demanding, it was premiered with the composer as soloist, which implies he was a highly accomplished pianist.
In four connected spans alternating between slow and fast, the initial one marked "Moderato" [T-8] begins with a halting angular theme (HA) for the orchestra. The piano then protests with a wistful countersubject [01:13].
But the tutti forcefully reject it, launching into a cantering passage that conjures up the next "Doppelt so rasch" ("Double the Speed") section [T-9]. Here the piano is won over, takes up HA, and with some virtuosic embellishments, plays it to a sparkling orchestral accompaniment.
Then the pace slows [01:47], and the soloist begins the penultimate "Langsam" ("Slowly") [T-10] with a triumphal version of HA. This becomes the subject of a demanding, three and a half minute cadenza with isolated tutti passages.
The last of these is immediately followed by a concluding, sonata-rondo-like span marked "Allegro molto" ("Fast and Lively") [T-11]. This starts with a flurry of descending notes from the soloist accompanied by a flighty tarantella-like ditty (FT) tossed off by the tutti [00:02]. After that there's an endearing, flirtatious subject (EF) introduced by the piano [01:12]. EF and FT become the recurring ideas for this section, and then big tune reminders of HA [04:44] bring the work to a joyful ending.
Returning to Braunfels' operas, the next selection stems from his best loved one, Die Vögel (The Birds, 1913-9), based on Aristophanes' (c. 446-386 BC) homonymous comedy (414 BC). Entitled "Der Tauberhochzeit" ("The Doves' Wedding") [T-12], it's a captivating orchestral distillation of the "Gruh! Gruh!" ("Coo, coo") number in the second act
This takes place just before Zeus hurls a thunderbolt destroying the Birds' hubristic citadel in the sky, and begins with the winds all atwitter. Some delicate avian conjugal passages follow. Then the piece ends boisterously in the same spirit it began.
The concluding selection on this exceptional release is Walter's enchanting Serenade (1910). This was written during his happier years before the rise of the Third Reich and its anti-Semitic policies forced his early retirement in 1933.
In four movements, the initial "Leicht bewegt" ("Movingly") [T-13] opens with a two-part pastoral idea (TP). This begins with a five-note horn motif (FH) [00:02] anticipating the fourth "Ascent" theme in Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Alpine Symphony (1911-5). FH is joined to a delicate coquettish tune (DC) for winds and strings [00:07], and then we get a relaxed, string countermelody (RC) [01:53].
RC transitions anxiously into a somewhat ominous sounding development [03:53]. This gradually brightens, returning via some introspective passages to the opening mood. Then there are some last reminders of FH [08:18] that end the movement tranquilly.
The following "Lebhaft, ausgelassen" ("Lively and Playful") [T-14] is a scherzoesque morsel based on a jittery variant of TP. On the other hand the succeeding "Ruhig" ("Peaceful") [T-15] begins with a relaxed repeated, FH-related figure, over which a lilting variant of RC soon appears [00:06]. This gives rise to a lovely closing rhapsodic episode.
The final movement is atypically marked "Die Achtel fast so rasch wie bisher die Viertel" ("Eighth Notes About the Same Speed as the Previous Quarter Ones") [T-16]. It commences with an offhand reference to the Valkyrie leitmotiv (VL) [00:08] from Wagner's Der Ring des Niebelungen (1853-74; see 23 January 2015). And while we're on the subject of Wagner, it was his Tristan und Isolde (1857-9) that originally inspired Walter to pursue a musical career.
Be that as it may, VL with bits of TP is explored leading to a dramatic romanticized version of DC [02:25]. Then recurring, ever more forceful allusions to VL bring the Serenade to a triumphant close.
As on a preceding release of Braunfels' symphonic fare from Dutton, conductor Johannes Wildner and the BBC Concert Orchestra give superb accounts of his music. Along with pianist Piers Lane's technically accomplished, spirited performance of the Concertstück, they turn what in lesser hands might have been ordinary fare into a memorable listening experience.
This hybrid disc offers CD and SACD stereo tracks, but no multichannel one. Made at the world's largest commercial recording venue, Abbey Road Studio One, London, the sonic image presented is wide, deep and in cavernous surroundings.
As for the instrumental timbre, it's characterized by edgy highs on the CD track. They're a bit less stringent in the SACD mode, but either way the midrange is convincing and complemented by lean, clean bass.
One last observation regarding the piano. Depending on your speaker placement and balance settings, some may find it seems spread across the soundstage. Mr. Lane's considerable efforts would have been better served had his instrument been more focused and highlighted.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160531)
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Gothe, M.L.: Sym 2 "…sunt lachrimae…", Autumn..., Apotheosis...; Burstedt/Helsing SO/Väst Snfta [dBProd]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
With this new release from dB Productions, Mats Larsson Gothe (b.1965 joins several other Swedish composers we've introduced you to over the last few months (see 31 March 2016). Trained in his native country, as of last year he'd produced a significant body of works spanning all genres.
They include five operas, and a substantial number of chamber as well as orchestral pieces. The latter are represented here by the second of his three symphonies and two shorter selections. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The opening one is titled The Autumn Diary (2013-4) [T-1]. Gothe implies "Autumn" reflects the melancholy pervading this piece, while "Diary" refers to its seven varying episodes, which seemingly reflect a week of changing day-to-day life.
It starts with an idea having a pizzicato violin note followed by a motif played by the higher ranged instruments. This suggests the rising sun [00:01-00:24], and marks the beginning of each "day" in this piece.
The first [00:47] is worried with a distraught midsection, and succeeded by four colorfully animated, impressionistic ones [04:37, 06:31, 07:20, 09:12]. Arguably these could represent a strenuous work week in some large city.
After that we get a day of relaxation [12:48] followed by what starts off as a peaceful seventh [13:58], but builds to a dramatic climax. This bridges via cathartic passages into a coda of spiritual renewal [20:33] that ends the diary with dramatic finality.
Both Beethoven (1770-1827) and Wagner (1813-1883) figure in Gothe's The Apotheosis of the Dance (2012-3) [T-2]. Moreover, it was inspired by the former's seventh symphony (1811-2), which the latter once described as a "deification and apotheosis of the dance".
Like many of us, Gothe has always been taken with that work's insistent motifs and driving rhythms, which are explored in this ten-minute piece. Moreover, it begins with a spunky, hiccupping modulatory riff (SH) from the symphony's first movement. This is contorted into a magnificently scored, ogreish sequence riddled with SH.
Then the second theme from the same movement -- the symphony's most lyrical -- tries to break through [02:24]. But to no avail, as it's pounded into the ground by SH and a succeeding manic episode [03:48] with shrieking brass
This suddenly falls [04:17] into a pensive stupor followed by a couple of locomotive-like, accelerando passages [08:01, 09:03] based on the symphony's last big theme. They initiate what promises to be a thrilling chime-laced ending. Then much to the listener's surprise, the music just up and quits!
The final selection is Gothe's second symphony of 2009 marked "...sunt lacrimae rerum..." [T-3]. The subtitle comes from something Aeneas says in Virgil's (70-19 BC) Aeneid (29-19 BC) while looking at a Carthaginian mural with scenes from the Trojan War.
They show the deaths of his friends and countrymen, moving him to a tearful expression of grief. His lines include the phrase "sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt", which could be translated as, "the world's a place of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart".
Apparently Aeneas' words had particular relevance to the difficult circumstances under which the symphony was written. Moreover, it came at a time when the composer was suffering emotional fallout from the completion and premiere of his second opera, Poet and Prophetess (2005-7; not currently available on disc).
In a single thirty-two minute arc, it's a heavily percussion-garnished, through-composed, stream of symphonic consciousness. Consequently this amorphous work doesn't readily lend itself to a clear-cut structural analysis, so a subjective one will have to do.
With that in mind, the opening is a juxtaposition of subdued ghostly passages and raging sinister ones. These undergo a fitful series of transformations [08:28] that end suddenly [18:31].
Next there's a protracted section [18:32] recreating the moods found in the opening measures. This reaches a frenzied percussion-laced climax with a bass drum stroke [28:57] that'll knock your socks off. Then after a dramatic pause, the symphony concludes tranquilly [29:12] with quiet sighs and a final optimistic high note.
Two of Sweden's leading orchestras are represented here under that country's violinist-turned-conductor, Fredrik Burstedt. The thirty-three members of the Västerås Sinfonietta (VS) deliver articulate, spirited accounts of the two opening selections, while Gothe's knotty symphony is given a committed performance by the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra.
Made last year in Swedish concert halls without audiences, the VS recordings were done at one in Västerås near Stockholm. They project a slender, distant sonic image in a reverberant space. The instrumental timbre is characterized by steely highs, a compact midrange, and lean-clean bass.
The symphony was recorded some three hundred miles to the southwest in Helsingborg. It presents a more generous soundstage in an accommodating acoustic.
As for the overall frequency response, with all that percussion, which includes some splenetic cymbal work, the highs are even more metallic. On the other hand there's a greater openness about the midrange, and an increased bass presence that goes down to rock bottom, while remaining well-defined. It'll push the limits of your speaker system!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160530)
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Guan, Xia: Sym 2 "Hope", Earth…: I. Gazing… (orch), Sorrowful Dawn - Sym Ballade; En Shao/Nurem SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Since last April, Marco Polo has released a spate of discs featuring Chinese "classical" music. None have appeared in these pages because the selections included have either already been on CD, or seemed of fleeting interest.
Now sibling label Naxos gives us this entertaining disc of music by one of China's most highly acclaimed, modern day composers, Xia Guan (b. 1957). With a significant body of works to his credit, what we have here is a sampling of orchestral pieces. It includes one of his several symphonies and two shorter selections, all of which are world premiere recordings.
At almost three quarters of an hour, the second symphony subtitled "Hope" written in 1999 on the eve of the Millennium is a contemplation of mankind's future. The timeless concepts of good, evil, despair, and hope are considered with the last finally winning out, making for a more friendly, understanding world.
In three movements the initial "Expectation and Quest" [T-1] lasts almost as long as the others end to end. It begins with a searching trumpet tune (ST) [00:01] followed by some pounding drum and brass outbursts. These subside into a tender string and wind episode that hints [01:35] at an exquisite romantic theme (ER) soon to come. However, the brass and percussion sections have a different agenda, and try to silence it.
But to no avail as we hear ER in full [05:24], which becomes a melodic tsunami! Then there's a mysterious section [08:37] with curious lightning [09:13] and Morse-code-like [09:23] embellishments. It bridges into a driving episode [09:43] that may at times remind you of wilder moments in a Shostakovich (1906-1975) symphony. This gives birth to a commanding brass theme that appears a couple of times [12:11, 13:18], and finally fades bringing the music to a brief hiatus.
The movement then resumes quietly [14:44], and soon there's a subdued woodwind reminder of ST [14:54] followed by a chromatic transition into a repeat of ER [17:41]. This builds à la Glière (1875-1956) into a towering unresolved climax, leaving the door open for what's to come.
"Warmth" [T-2] begins with soft, harp-celeste-sequined strings playing a velvet, dreamy idea (VD) [00:00]. This could be a "Hope" motif, and the English horn introduces a graceful, complaisant melody (GC) [00:53] over it. GC is next elaborated, and followed by repeated passacaglia-like reminders of VD [02:42].
Then the music becomes more harmonically adventurous [05:20] and intensifies into a powerful developmental passage, which falls back recalling VD [08:13]. After that GC returns [08:39], comes to a climax, and the movement ends [10:30] much like it began.
The final one marked "The Light" [T-3] is sonata form oriented. It opens with a blazing, martial, brass-percussion-bolstered fanfare [00:00] with echoes of Wagner (1813-1883) followed by a dramatic pause. Then there's a jagged passage [00:37] that could well symbolize China's "Great-Leap-Forward" under Chairman Mao.
This fades and we get an opening statement having two themes. The first is a delightful swaying tune (DS) [02:31] that smacks of the barcarole from Offenbach's (1819-1880) Les contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann, 1881). Then, after a brief caesura, there's a spacious glowing melody (SG) [03:24].
A DS-initiated raucous development follows [04:14], and ends in an ER-related sequence [06:01], which bridges into the recapitulation. This starts with a massive remembrance of SG [06:56], and the delicate reappearance of DS [07:46]. Then SG returns [09:03], prefacing a magnificent coda [10:49] that ends the symphony triumphantly with a final hint of VD [11:25].
In 2008 China's Sichuan Province experienced a calamitous earthquake that killed nearly 70,000, and left as many as 11 million homeless. Having visited the disaster area not long thereafter, Guan was moved to write his Earth Requiem (2008-9).
An East-West amalgamation of local folk elements with a Chinese text and requiem-like structure, it was the starting point for the next selection, entitled Earth Requiem: I. Gazing at the Stars: Meditation [T-4]. This is a symphonic synthesis of the original work's opening section, and an affecting eulogy for the victims of that catastrophe.
Guan says the hushed opening [00:00] depicts stunned survivors gazing upwards into the star-studded, night sky. There are hints of a pensive thematic nexus (PN) soon to follow [01:15] that will dominate the work.
Considering the magnitude of this disaster, PN seemingly mirrors man's insignificance in relation to the forces of nature and vast heavens above. As PN intensifies one can imagine the victims' increasing determination to go on with life. After that the music subsides into a captivating chime-vibraphone-ornamented passage, ending the work reverently.
Back in 2000 the composer wrote an opera titled Sorrowful Dawn about the Chinese Communist Revolution (1949). Then before the year was out he came up with the twenty-minute orchestral distillation of it that closes this CD.
Called Symphonic Ballad [T-5], it's a nationalistic, tumescent tone poem much in keeping with Guan's reputation as one of his country's leading film score composers. Moreover, it opens with a heroic Wagnerian theme (HW) [00:00] that sounds like a call to arms and revolt. Then there's a big appealing, organ-piano-percussion-enhanced patriotic tune (AP) [00:41], which would seem to represent the Chinese people.
AP is followed by a couple of programmatic episodes. The first is combative with persistent reminders of HW suggesting the revolution [03:19]. It transitions via the strings into an amorous one, presumably related to romantic aspects of the opera. The latter starts with a loving AP-related idea (LA) first played by the oboe [07:31], which swells into a big tune. Then LA is succeeded by several afterthoughts [09:24], the last being a militant outcry from the brass [10:40].
Next the oboe returns [10:48] transitioning into AP [11:25], which takes on massive proportions, only to give way to an overcast melancholy episode [13:34]. This transforms into sunlit passages [14:02] presumably limning optimistic hopes for the future.
Then the music wanes, seemingly about to bring the work to a tranquil, introspective conclusion. But Guan can't resist a final humongous recap of AP [15:55] with a dollop of HW [17:41] for good measure, thereby ending this symphonic saga in cinematic fashion.
The Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra (NSO) under Chinese conductor En Shao is featured here. Acclaimed for their past recordings of such great film scores as Miklós Rózsa's (1907-1995).for Quo Vadis (1951) and Ben Hur (1959), the NSO delivers superb performances of Guan's colorful, melodramatic music.
Made two years ago in the Musiksaal of Congress Hall, Nuremberg, Germany, these recordings present a broad, deep sonic image in a reverberant venue. The orchestral timbre is characterized by tinsel highs, a lucid midrange, and low, tenebrous bass. While the foregoing doesn't add up to demonstration quality sound, it makes Guan's Technicolor music all the more magniloquent.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160529)
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O'Brien, C.: Cpte Orch Wks V2 (2 Conc Ovs, Scottish Scenes, Mazurka, Berceuse); Mann/Liepaja SO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
This is the second installment in Toccata's ongoing three volume survey of Scottish composer Charles O'Brien's (1882-1968) complete orchestral works (see 31 August 2015). All five selections on this disc are first recordings, a couple of which appear thanks to the considerable editorial efforts of conductor Paul Mann. He also wrote the album's superb program notes that include detailed analyses of these works. Consequently, rather than second guessing Maestro Mann, we'll limit ourselves to general comments about them.
The disc begins with two concert overtures written at a time (1904-6) when romantic German composers were much in vogue with British concert audiences. In that regard Charles even gave them German subtitles, and the influences of Mendelssohn (1809-1847) as well as Schumann (1810-1856) are evident.
These are early pieces with a youthful abandon not found in the selections on the previous album. Both overtures are highly programmatic, extended-sonata-form creations with the second lasting just over twenty-five minutes. Taking all that into account, they resemble Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) tone poems.
First up, there's An den Frühling (In the Spring, 1906) [T-1] that opens with a relaxed pastoral passage (RP) [00:01] implying the promise of spring. After that we get an animated percussion-reinforced episode (AP) [03:45] suggesting passing thunderstorms, followed by a colorful development [04:59l. Then AP initiates a recap [10:17] with recollections of RP, and the work concludes in a glorious coda [11:59] of vernal rebirth.
Based on German writer Ludwig Uhland's (1787-1862) poetic ballad Des Sängers Fluch (The Singers Curse, 1814), the next overture (1905) [T-2] appears here for the first time since its premiere in 1905. This is a symphonic saga where the music depicts the story with all the detail of a film score. And in that regard, here's a brief description of the plot.
It's about two wandering minstrels, who come upon some lovely gardens and fountains surrounding an imposing castle. The home of a ruthless monarch and his attractive queen, they gain entrance to it, and proceed to perform for them.
Their songs so enchant the queen that she throws them a rose. This causes the king to fly into a jealous rage, and stab the younger minstrel to death. After that the grief-stricken older one leaves with his companion's body, later calling down a curse on the murderous tyrant and his abode. The ballad then concludes telling of a barren landscape where the splendid castle once stood.
Turning to the music, it begins with an introduction having an ominous brass fanfare (OB) [00:02] succeeded by a lovely pastoral episode. These seemingly represent the castle and tragic events soon to follow as opposed to the beautiful surroundings.
Then OB is heard again [01:51], and succeeded by an opening statement with several memorable themes representing the characters involved. This ends in a rampant drumroll (RD) [05:08] that announces a programmatic development [05:20], where it's easy to imagine the minstrels performing, and subsequent murder.
Then OB returns [15:45] prefacing a recapitulation, which includes a repeat of the entire opening statement. On that note, had the work become popular, O'Brien would have probably cut this, thereby making for a more compact, dramatically effective symphonic poem along the lines of Liszt (1811-1886).
Be that as it may, RD reappears next [19:04], triggering a lengthy closing coda [19:19]. This concludes the overture forcefully with a last reminder of OB [24:21] evoking the ballad's desolate ending.
The next two short selections originated as youthful piano pieces Charles penned at age sixteen (1898; currently unavailable on disc). They were later orchestrated by some unknown hand, giving us the source material for what's here.
Weighty scoring turns the initial Mazurka [T-3] into a formal affair. Some may find it could almost be out of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Eugene Onegin (1877-8).
On the other hand, the orchestral version of Berceuse [T-4] was so problematic conductor Mann and the composer's grandson had to rework it for this recording. With a main theme bearing a striking resemblance to Chopin's eponymous piano piece (Op. 57, 1844), they managed to come up with a delightful trinket.
O'Brien also wrote two sets of Scottish Scenes for piano (1914-7), the first of which he orchestrated in 1929, giving us the three-part suite that concludes this release. It begins with "Moorland" [T-5, mislabelled "T-7" on back insert], which is music characterizing one of Scotland's most distinctive geographic features. Based on a couple of fetching themes that seem of folk origin, there's an earthy cragginess about the first [00:25], while the other is a lovely homespun melody [03:32].
"Voices in the Glen" [T-6, mislabelled "T-8" on back insert] starts with a gorgeous expansive melody (GE) [00:18] conjuring up images of peaceful verdant valleys. It's followed by a plaintive idea [02:06] that suggests surrounding, bleak rocky outcroppings. Then GE returns [05:02] ending the scene as it began, and making this one of the most sublime O'Brien utterances to appear on disc as of this writing.
"Harvest Home" [T-7, mislabelled "T-9" on back insert] brings this engaging Scottish travelogue to a jolly conclusion. It opens and closes with a merry tune [00:01] that suggests highlanders happily engaged in an abundant harvest. It surrounds a more laid-back number [01:15] that may represent their thoughts about the comforts of home after a hard day's work.
As on volume one (see 31 August 2015) conductor Paul Mann and the talented musicians of the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra do well by O'Brien. They give exhilarating yet sensitive accounts of these selections, making this another outstanding disc of discovery.
Done by the identical production staff and at the same location as before (the Latvian Society House, Liepaja), the recordings again project a confined, deep soundstage in a reverberant space. The resultant orchestral timbre is accordingly characterized by bright highs, a somewhat congested midrange, and sparse bass. While this disc won't win any audiophile prizes, with repertoire this rare we're lucky to have what's here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160528)
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Röntgen: Vn & Pno Wks V1 (2 Sons fm 1900 & 1915, Phant, 7 Concert Pcs]; Schickedanz/Breidenbach [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
CROCKS Newsletter readers are very familiar with the name of Julius Röntgen (1858-1932; see 28 January 2016), and here he is again. This time around CPO gives us the first volume in their new survey devoted to his violin and piano works. The four selections on this release span the years 1884 through 1925, and are a good sample of his middle creative period.
Born and trained in Germany, the nineteen-year-old Julius moved to the Netherlands in 1877 where he got a job as a piano teacher. In that regard Holland must have agreed with him, because he'd become a Dutch citizen, and one of that country's most important late romantic musical figures. An accomplished pianist, founder of the Amsterdam Conservatory and prolific composer, his music shows the influences of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Max Reger (1873-1916), both of whom he knew.
There are also elements of César Franck (1822-1890), whom he greatly admired, as well as his close friend -- and hiking companion -- Edvard Grieg (1843-1907; see 12 July 2013). All of the foregoing along with Röntgen's penchant for working local folk tunes into his creations make for a composer whose better remembered as Dutch than for his German associations.
Julius was selective in cataloging his works, and the opening unnumbered sonata is a case in point. Completed in 1900, it's the sixth he'd written, and in four movements. The initial allegro [T-1] begins with an exquisite expansive melody (EE) in the tradition of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Schumann (1810-1856) and Brahms, but there's a composure about it typically found in Röntgen's themes.
EE is explored and followed by a graceful winding melody, after which the two undergo a captivating development. Then a nostalgic EE initiates a coda of remembrance, ending the movement warmly.
A second allegro that's a quickie theme and variations follows [T-2]. It's main subject is a proud dance tune, which sounds like something Julius might have heard during his treks through Norway with Grieg. It's succeeded by an innocent lilting variant, and then a frenetic one that closes the movement excitedly.
After that the pace slackens with a lento [T-3], which is also a theme and variations. Twice as long as the previous one, it starts with the piano playing a violin-embellished, searching main subject. This is pondered, and followed by three variants that are sequentially tender, forceful, and passively fragmented. The last brings the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
The finale is yet another allegro [T-4] that begins with a couple of lively themes. These give way to another of Julius' winsome melodies that just may have Dutch folk associations.
An animated exploration of them follows. Then the sonata comes full circle with the return of EE [04:14], which introduces a passionate closing coda, ending the sonata elatedly.
Next there's Julius' Phantasy for violin and piano of 1884. It's in two movements, the first of which might best be described as an antic sonata-rondo [T-5]. This opens with an attractive demure subject (AD) [00:01], followed by a related waltzlike idea (AW) [00:48]. Then there's a repeat of AD [01:59], and an AD-derived bustling episode (AB) [03:03] with bagpipe-like passages [03:18].
After that AD fuels a rhapsodic
At half the length of its predecessor, this begins with an AL-like sinuous idea (AS) that undergoes a dramatic development. There are some effusive violin passages, and then AD quietly reappears on the piano [04:49]. It's caressed by the violin, thereby ending the Phantasy with wistful memories of the opening measures.
Moving ahead to 1915 we get the composer's Sonata trilogica, whose title refers to its three movements. This seems to have come right after the one above, which would make it his seventh effort in this form. A more progressive work, there's a harmonic fluidity out of Franck that's headed towards Max Reger's chromatic peripateticism (see 30 March 2008).
The initial moderato [T-7] begins in the minor with a ponderous passacaglia-like motif (P1) played by the piano [00:01]. It's soon accompanied by the violin elaborating on P1 [00:28], after which the music ebbs with hints of the opening measures, and pauses.
A mysterious development [02:06] follows where the piano alludes to P1 while the violin engages in some flights of fancy. Then the music dies away, concluding the movement.
Caution turns to truculence in the middle "allegro con fuoco" ("Fast with Fire") [T-8], which is a scherzo with fast and furious outer sections wrapped around a troubled trio (TT) [02:40-03:49]. Towards the end there's a hint of TT [04:50], and then the movement closes with forceful reminders of its opening.
The concluding moderato [T-9] is a theme and variations that starts with the piano playing P1 in a major key [00:00]. It's the underlying basis the subject hymnlike theme (PH) soon heard on the violin [00:29].
A number of variations follow, ranging from flirtatious [02:09] to forlorn [02:51], songful [03:41], and spiraling [04:49], after which the piano brings back PH [06:14]. The sonata then ends in quiet contentment with a lovely sustained keyboard chord and heavenly high violin note.
Filling out this release we get a suite of Seven Concert Pieces (1925), the first being an "Allegretto" that's a folksy dance number [T-10]. The next "Fughetta" [T-11] is as advertised, and pays homage to the baroque recalling Reger's preoccupation with that period of music.
Julius' humorous side shows in the waltzlike "Kanon uber ein schmachhaftes Motif" ("Canon on a Tasty Theme") [T-12], which is dedicated to a friend who'd provided a rabbit for the Röntgens' dinner table. Moreover, it's based on the notes B, A, Eb and E, which in Germany are H A, S and E, spelling the word for hare.
"Dans uit Terschelling" ("Dance from Terschelling") [T-13] is a playful folksy polka honoring an Island off the Dutch north coast known as a popular vacation spot. The following "Lento" [T-14] has a Scandinavian despondency that could be interpreted as a sad remembrance of the composer's good friend Edvard.
It's offset by a tripping "Andante" [T-15], and then the suite ends with a spirited "Vivace" [T-16]. There's a rustic air about the latter making it easy to imagine tipsy peasants dancing about in celebration of a good harvest.
Violinist Christoph Schickedanz and pianist Ernst Breidenbach acquit themselves well on this release. Their attention to phrasing, particularly in the later sonata, dynamics, and rhythmic detail make a strong case for some romantic chamber music long overdue for revival. Hopefully subsequent releases in this series will include many of the unpublished works Julius wrote in his final years.
This was a coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandfunk (DLF) done five years ago at DLF's Kammermusiksaal (Chamber Music Hall) in Cologne. The recordings present a lifelike soundstage in ideal surroundings with just enough reverberation to give this music a romantic glow. Both instruments are perfectly captured and balanced against one another giving us a demonstration quality disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160527)
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