CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 SEPTEMBER 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.
Carrillo, Julián: Sym 1, Theme & Vars for Orch, Ste 1 for Orch; Zapata/SanLuisPot SO [Sterling]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
The Sterling label lives up to its reputation as a source of long lost classical music treasures with this release. Here they introduce us to three outstanding symphonic works by little known Mexican composer, Julián Carrillo (1875-1965). These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Born some twenty miles northwest of San Luis Potosí City (SLPC), Mexico, as a child Julián sang in a local church choir. He'd go on to study music in SLPC, and became a promising violinist-composer, which lead to his attending the National Conservatory of Music (NCM) in Mexico City (1894-9).
After that he journeyed to Leipzig, and attended what's now known as the University of Theater and Music (1899-1902), where his teachers included the renowned German pianist-composer Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902; see 21 December 2012). He'd also spend a couple of years in Brussels (1902-4) at the Royal Conservatory of Ghent, perfecting his violin technique.
Julián was a man of many interests and talents, who during this period studied scientific aspects of musical sounds, which even included his developing a theory of microtonal music. He'd also become a superb conductor! And if that weren't enough, upon his return to Mexico in 1904, he joined the NCM staff, soon establishing himself as one of its most distinguished instructors.
In 1914 civil unrest forced him to leave Mexico for the United States. From that point on he'd become a well-travelled, influential musical figure, who'd leave several significant works, which include the ones here.
The first symphony dates from 1901, and the composer would conduct its 1902 Leipzig premiere, as well as first New York performance in 1916, both of which received glowing critical acclaim. In four movements the first one is a moving sonata-form-related offering [T-1]. It begins with a peaceful introduction hinting at an initial restful, panoramic theme (RP) soon to come [01:46]. RP is elaborated, bridging into a second related flowing idea (RF) [03:28] that intensifies.
RF then falls away into an extended developmental section [05:42]. Here the emphasis is on presenting the subject melodies in a variety of colorfully scored ways, rather than the usual structural and harmonic machinations. The movement then ends with a forceful RP-RF-based recapitulative coda [09:46]. It brings to mind more dramatic appearances of the River Rhine motif in Wagner's (1813-1883) Ring Cycle (1853-74).
The andante [T-2] is a passacaglia-like, melodic tour de force with an exquisite ostinato tune [00:04]. It's the exact opposite of the next scherzo [T-3] that has delightful, antic outer sections with a couple of whirling, Latin-tinged ditties [00:03 & 00:37]. These surround a whimsical developmental trio with some winsome wind solos [01:54-03:23], and end the movement with a catchy final bounce.
The sonata form finale [T-4] starts with a bustling triumphal theme (BT) [00:00] having the resilience of Dvorák (1841-1904), and is paired with a related laid-back melody (RL) [00:55]. The opening statement is then repeated [02:01], transitioning into a dramatic development with stylistic episodes owing a debt to Brahms (1833-1897) [03:17], Bruckner (1824-1896) [03:55] and Mendelssohn (1809-1847) [5:12]. Finally, BT begins a recapitulation [05:28] that builds into a coruscating, BT-RL-derived coda, ending the symphony exultantly.
Going back a couple of years we next have the twenty-four-year-old Julián's Theme and Variations for Orchestra (1899). It begins with a folk-ballad-like main subject (FB) played by the strings [T-5]. This is followed by seven brilliantly scored, virtuosically demanding variations.
The first [T-6] is a repeat of FB where the woodwinds predominate, while the next [T-7] is a scampering variant for the strings with Paganini (1782-1840) overtones. Then we get a couple highlighting the brass, which are respectively heroic [T-8] and ursine [T-9]. The specter of Mendelssohn haunts the Puckish fifth [T-10], featuring ethereal strings and winds.
We journey westward to Spain for the penultimate and longest variation [T-11], which takes the form of an alluring habanera [T-11]. After that the work ends with a stately polonaise [T-12], bringing this youthful creation to a majestic conclusion.
During his early days in Mexico, Carrillo wrote four short orchestral pieces. Then while in Leipzig, and as late as 1920 and 1931 he reworked them into the suite filling out this disc (see album notes for more details). The opening "Gavota" [T-13] is a fetching, innocent rustic dance, while the following "Andante religioso" [T-14] comes off as advertised.
The third "Valse" [T-15] appears in a revised version specially done for this recording by our conductor. It's a light-hearted frolic with all the appeal of a late nineteenth century Strauss waltz. Then the work closes with an arresting "Final" [T-16] that's the most harmonically advanced, rhythmically adventurous, and colorfully scored section of the suite.
The San Luis Potosí Symphony Orchestra under their founder and artistic director José Miramontes Zapata make a strong case for this music. Taken from concerts done in early 2015, the performances have that exciting spontaneity frequently lacking in studio recordings, which makes Carrillo's youthful scores all the more appealing.
These live recordings were made at the Teatro de la Paz (Theater of Peace) in San Luis Potosí, some 200 miles north-northwest of Mexico City. They project a somewhat compressed but presentable soundstage in a warm, spacious venue. Careful editing and/or touchup assure no extraneous audience noise or applause. However, Maestro Zapata can occasionally be heard urging his musicians on to greater things, and there are a couple of intonationally shaky spots.
The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by twinkling highs, pleasant mids, and minimal, clean bass. As for the many soloists and instrumental groups, they're effectively highlighted against the rest of the orchestra. While the release doesn't fall into the demonstration category, with such rarely heard music of this quality, we're fortunate to have what's here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160930)
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Daugherty, M.: Tales of... (vc & orch), American... (orch), Once... (org & orch); Bailey/Jacobs/Guerrero/Nashv SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
One of America's most popular modern day composers, Michael Daugherty (b. 1954) writes larger-than life, programmatic symphonic music with immediate appeal. Naxos continues their survey of it with this collection of three recent works, each of which seems more brash and cinematic than the last. All are world premiere recordings.
The opening one pays homage to American adventurer-journalist-author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and his stories. In his youth he played the cello, and accordingly it takes the form of a concerto for that instrument, which Daugherty has titled Tales of Hemingway (2015).
In four programmatic movements, the first honors Hemingway's story "Big Two-Hearted River" (1925), where the author contrasts World War I’s (1914-8) destructiveness and nature’s healing powers. It begins wistfully, and becomes increasingly anguished with soaring cello passages. Then we get a consoling melody [02:37], which is the basis for a soothing conclusion that ends the movement optimistically.
Hemingway's experiences as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) were the inspiration for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), which is the title of the next one [T-2]. It's a skittering, virtuosic workout for the soloist set to a combative accompaniment with a rhythmic angst reminiscent of Stravinsky (1882-1971). There are bits of Dies Irae [beginning at 02:33] presumably portending the death of the story's hero, who was portrayed so convincingly in the 1943 film by Gary Cooper (1901-1961).
A quivering cello-chime-ridden ending [05:32] recalls the book's epigraph, "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." Incidentally, Ernest borrowed this line from English poet John Donne's (1573-1631) Meditation XVII (1623).
Then we get a movement based on Hemingway’s Nobel prize-winning novella The Old Man and the Sea (1952) about an aging Cuban fisherman [T-3]. He was played to critical acclaim by Spencer Tracy in a 1958 film that won Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979) an Academy Award® for best score of a dramatic or comedy picture.
Michael's music is mostly an ocean-swelling rhapsodic offering, which he says represents the struggle between life and death. That seems reflected in a couple of Latin-accented outbursts [01:42 & 05:02], and a brief dramatic episode [02:49]. The latter is followed by a challenging cello cadenza [03:30-04:22], after which the movement concludes tranquilly.
The final one [T-4] takes its cue from what some say is Hemingway's greatest work, The Sun Also Rises (1926). Daugherty's vivacious Iberian-tinged music depicts the novel's references to the annual running of the bulls festival and subsequent bullring activities in Pamplona, Spain. Another virtuosic showpiece for the soloist, it starts with the cello playing a plucky guitar-like bravura idea. It's soon joined by the orchestra, and the two deliver vivacious, Iberian-accented passages limning the occasion.
A couple of introspective episodes and cadenzas may bring to mind Joaquin Turina's (1882-1949) "La oración del torero" ("The Bullfighter's Prayer", 1925). Then the concerto ends with a forte, "moment of truth" flourish.
American artist Grant Wood's (1891-1942) paintings were the inspiration for the following work, which is named after his most famous one, American Gothic (1930). The composer tells us the first of its three movements titled "On a Roll" [T-5] is meant to convey the striking colors and bold curves of Wood's rural Iowa pictures.
It begins with a snare drum roll and a droll tuba tune, which "Tubby" (1947) would have loved. A scurrying accompaniment with repetitious, rising-falling melodies gives this colorfully scored utterance a cartoon-like insistence.
Next there’s "Winter Dreams" [T-6] that’s meant to capture the essence of those severe Iowa winters in some of Wood's pictures. The music is highly programmatic with shivering, subzero whistling wind passages, icicled percussion, and cold clangorous church bells. It builds to what might be a raging blizzard [04:57-06:07] that dies away quietly, making it easy to imagine a snow-covered landscape under twinkling stars.
The closing "Pitchfork" movement [T-7] is named for the implement held by that stoic farmer in the title picture. This starts with an antsy, percussively effervescent ditty, and develops into a hoedown complete with country fiddle.
There's a melodic wholesomeness here recalling Aaron Copland's (1900-1990) Americana scores, and a theme [05:56] that seems distantly related to the Shaker "Simple Gifts" dance-song used in Appalachian Spring (1943-4). Be that as it may, the music becomes increasingly animated, bringing the work to an exciting conclusion. This might have been even more effective had it been a little tighter.
American media-mogul-billionaire William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) and his imposing residence in San Simeon, California, known as Hearst Castle inspired the closing selection. With the name Once Upon a Castle, it's the most cinematic work here, and takes the unlikely form of a sinfonia concertante for organ and orchestra! Commissioned and premiered in 2003, this is the revised version of 2015.
In four movements, the first is a musical travelogue titled "The Winding Road to San Simeon" [T-8]. This is meant to capture the spirit of those breathtaking Pacific Ocean views along the highway through the mountains to this imposing piece of real estate. It begins with a panoramic organ theme (PO) soon set to a flowing tutti accompaniment reminiscent of Ravel's (1875-1937) Daphnis and Chloe (1909-12), and makes it easy to imagine motoring along this scenic route.
Having arrived at our destination, the music turns rhythmically as well as thematically fitful and fragmented [01:37]. This would seem to represent the busy clutter of priceless European artifacts that the compulsive Hearst collected to adorn his "man cave". After that the mood of the opening returns [04:07], ending the movement with more seaside recollections.
The Castle's centerpiece is the Olympic-sized "Neptune Pool" [T-9] decorated with statues of the Sea God and his Nereids. It's the subject of the succeeding movement [T-9] that Daugherty describes as reflective water music.
Beginning with a stroke on the chimes, there's a repeated, mesmeric, rising-falling organ theme. This is set to an embracing orchestral accompaniment with woodwind wavelets, and occasional Latin-sounding riffs [beginning at 01:41] -- maybe Hemingway's "Old Man" dropped by for a quick dip! Then there are a couple of dramatic climaxes, after which chimes [05:22], shimmering strings, solo trumpet passages, low organ notes, and flute figurations bring the music to a mysterious close.
English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge's (1772-1834) Kubla Khan (1797) begins, "In Xanadu did Kubla Khan, A stately pleasure-dome decree". That's the name of the mansion in Orson Welles (1915-1985) classic 1941 film, Citizen Kane, whose central character, Charles Foster Kane, is a contemptuous characterization of Hearst.
Kane dies towards the end, and with his last breath utters the word "Rosebud". It's the trade name that was on the sled he had as a boy, and the title of the next movement [T-10]. A rather bizarre creation, the composer tells us the music is meant to mirror an altercation between him and his mistress Susan in one of Xanadu's cold cavernous rooms.
She's represented by a whiny, carping violin, while the organ embodies Charles in passages that are at first argumentative. These become increasingly sneering and aggressive with his nibs having the last say.
The final movement titled "Xanadu" [T-11] is a virtuosic showpiece for both organ and orchestra that builds to cinematic heights. It celebrates all those dignitaries and movie stars who visited Hearst Castle as well as the lavish festivities that took place there in the 1920-30s.
Starting with an insistent, charging organ theme that's picked up by the orchestra, the music intensifies by degrees, and then suddenly quits! After a gestural solo organ note, there's a pause followed by a pensive episode [02:26]. This quickly escalates into a couple of over-the-top, percussion-laced, tam-tam-reinforced orgiastic episodes with decorative organ passages.
A big tune reminder of PO (see above) appears about two-thirds of the way through [06:12], and is the basis for a manic closing coda that brings this organ concerto on steroids full circle. Conservative listeners may find the conclusion pretentious, but so was Randolph!
American organist Paul Jacobs gives a technically flawless, magnificent account of this colorful work. He's at the console of the U.S.-built, three-manual Schoenstein Organ (64 ranks) in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center's Laura Turner Hall, Nashville, Tennessee, where these recordings were made (see 10 November 2014). That said, Daugherty's effulgent organ writing would probably sound even better on one of those more piquant European instruments.
In any case Jacobs receives superb support from the Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO) under its Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero. They extend the same to American cellist Zuill Bailey in Hemingway..., where he delivers a stunning, committed rendition of the concerto. He plays with a sincerity that emphasizes the music's absolute, down-to-earth aspects over its flashy programmatic ones. Many may find it Daugherty's finest creation to date.
Maestro Guerrero and the NSO go on to give an equally accomplished account of American Gothic. This as well as the previous selections were recorded live in Laura Turner Hall. However, skillful postproduction touch-ups and editing have eliminated any sign of extraneous audience noise or applause. That said, pointy-eared listeners may detect a couple of edit-related clicks.
The sonic image projected is wide, deep and reverberant with the soloists and many instrumental groups well captured, highlighted and balanced against the NSO. The instrumental timbre is characterized by bright, tinkly highs, a somewhat condensed midrange, and low bass with maybe a hint of hangover after Michael's more massively scored moments. This CD should appeal to those liking a rich cavernous sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160929)
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Granados, E.: Orch Wks V3 (Liliana (arr Casals), Ste oriental (aka Ste árabe), Elisenda; Espasa/González/Bar SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Chances are you'll find this third and final volume the best yet in Naxos survey of Spanish composer Enrique Granados' (1867-1916) orchestral works (see 30 March 2016). As done here these are all world premiere recordings.
In 1911 the composer wrote a one-act scenic poem called Liliana with a libretto by Spanish writer Apel·les Mestres' (1854-1936). He based it on his 1907 eponymous poem, which is set in an enchanted forest inhabited by magical flora and fauna (see album notes), one being a bipedal flower named Liliana.
Sad to say the complete score is long lost, but Granados' friend, cellist-conductor Pablo Casals (1878-1973), who saw and loved the work, made a four-movement symphonic suite from it in 1921, which is our first selection. The opening "Preludio y salutación al sol" ("Prelude and Greetings to the Sun") [T-1] brings to mind Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) "Hymn to the Sun" in his opera Le Coq d'Or (1905-7), and begins with an ascending melody presumably representing the rising sun.
Then there's a passage recalling Richard Strauss (1864-1949) lighter, rustic moments, where it's easy to imagine a delicate interplay of morning light on the forest floor. It's followed by a lovely sylvan theme played by the oboe [02:45] that sets the tone for the comely conclusion.
The next "Liliana y los gnomos" ("Liliana and the Gnomes") [T-2] starts with some jolly elfin music, after which the strings play a melting Liliana motif (ML) [00:47]. It twists and turns, reaches a dramatic climax [02:55], and recedes bringing the movement to a peaceful close.
"Canto de las ranas" ("Song of the Frogs") [T-3] is a rhythmically infectious, hopping number representing the amphibian members of this fairy tale world. There are hints of ML along the way [beginning at 01:31], and then the suite ends in "Canto de silfos y farándula" ("Song of the sylphs and Farandola") [T-4]. This starts off in Mendelssohn (1809-1847) scherzosque fashion, and becomes a whirlwind dance concluding the suite in great excitement.
The Suite orientale, or Suite árabe, is an early four-movement work dating from 1888-9, and was written when Orientalism was all the rage in Western Europe (see 7 November 2012). Accordingly, the first movement marked "Ante el desierto" ("Facing the Desert") [T-5] begins with a parched Eastern-tinted theme. This is worked into a pensive episode where it's easy to imagine endless sand and blazing sunlight.
After that the mood becomes more outgoing with "Serenata" [T-6], which is a charming minuet-like number. And then we get "Marcha oriental" [T-7] featuring a couple of rhythmically volatile oriental tunes.
The final movement "Dos danzas" ("Two Dances") [T-8] augurs exotic moments in such works as Carl Nielsen's incidental music for Aladdin (1918-9). The first is coquettish [00:00], and the second frenetic [01:36] with riffs [beginning at 02:37] that could be out of the bacchanal from Camille Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) opera Samson and Delilah (1877, see 31 July 2012). Then there's a whirling dervish coda, concluding the work in thrilling fashion.
1912 saw Enrique complete a four-movement suite titled Elisenda inspired by a Mestres' (see above) poem of the same name. Scored for a ten-piece ensemble, the last movement, which included a soprano part, has since been lost. However, the composer later arranged the first three for piano and chamber orchestra, giving us the closing selection. This performance is based on a critical edition recently done by American pianist and Granados authority Douglas Riva.
Like Manuel de Falla's (1876-1946) Nights in the Gardens of Spain (1911-5), this is a series of symphonic scenes with piano commentary, and also opens in a garden, in this case Elisenda's. Titled "El jardin de Elisenda" [T-9] it's a dreamy gossamer creation with a delicate piano descant.
The succeeding "Trova" ("Ballad") [T-10] is an amorous melancholy number first sung by the piano [00:00] with lovely, caressing asides for flute and viola. Then the suite ends blissfully with winds, strings and the soloist painting a radiant portrait of the fair "Elisenda" [T-11].
Catalan Pianist Dani Espasa takes us on a delicate captivating journey through Elisenda. He gets sensitive support from the members of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, also known as the National Orchestra of Catalonia. They're under the direction of Spanish-born, British-trained conductor Pablo González, who was the orchestra's music director at the time. We also have them to thank for uncovering and giving us magnificent interpretations of the other two Granados goodies.
These recordings were done on several occasions in 2013-4 at L'Auditori Hall, Barcelona, which as we noted in our previous Granados recommendation (see 30 March 2016) is an enormous reverberant space. Consequently, they project a consistently wide, deep sonic image. While this is at the cost of some clarity, the sound is all the richer for it, and should appeal to those liking wetter sonics.
The piano is positioned a little left of center, but well captured and balanced against the tutti. In that regard the instrumental timbre is pleasing with argent highs, lifelike mids, and clean, rock-bottom lows with some seismic bass drum work in "Marcha..." [T-7].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160928)
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Schmidt, F.: Fant (pno & orch), Vars on Hussar's Song, Chaconne (orch); Stancul/Rumpf/RheinPfSt P [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The main attraction here is the world premiere recording of Austrian composer Franz Schmidt's (1874-1939; see 15 January 2010) Fantasia for Piano and Orchestra. Capriccio also treats us to two of his more familiar symphonic works with performances many may find raise the bar for the aging competition still available on disc.
Probably completed in 1899, the Fantasia could be considered a teaser for Schmidt's highly successful opera Notre Dame, which was soon to follow (1902-4). Moreover, this previews some of the best themes in that stage work's "Introduction", "Intermezzo" and "Carnival Music" (see 15 January 2010).
It [T-7] starts with a smiling orchestral passage [00:01], followed by a jolly tune for the piano (JT) [00:34], which some may recognize from the Notre Dame "Introduction". It's succeeded by an engaging elaboration of JT, and then the orchestra plays what will soon become the opera's famed "Intermezzo" (IZ) [04:09-07:10].
After that there's a cadenza [07:11] where the soloist meditates on IZ. Towards its end the tutti join in, and the music transitions via a coy bridge [11:01] into an engaging JT-IZ-based development [11:36]. This has rousing as well as lyrically contemplative episodes, and one of the latter for subdued winds [16:52] prefaces the work's exhilarating conclusion.
Jumping ahead thirty years, Schmidt would write one of his best known orchestral pieces, Variations on a Hussar's Song (1930-1). This falls into five alternately slow and fast sections. The first is a disembodied, portentous introduction [T-1] with what sound like wisps of IZ [beginning at 02:22]. It hints at the main subject soon to come in the next part [T-2].
This is a proud strutting idea (PS) [00:00] followed by five variants [beginning at 00:35] that range from commanding to hymnlike and insistent. Then we get a lento transformation [T-3] that's a return to the work's opening mood.
Things brighten with five merry, scherzo-like ones [T-4]. They’re followed by a couple that are pensive, bordering on romantic [T-5] with more IZ-like allusions [beginning at 01:49]. After that there are three festive, somewhat martial [T-6] variations. These seem in keeping with Hussars, the last being a bodacious, big tune rendition of PS [03:51]. It’s succeeded by a brief flashy coda [04:38] that ends the work with great panache. Incidentally Bruno Walter (see below) conducted the New York Philharmonic in the 1932 American premiere of this.
Schmidt wrote a considerable amount of noteworthy organ music, which includes a Chaconne in C sharp minor (1925). He later transcribed it for orchestra, but in the key of D minor (1931), giving us the closing selection on this disc [T-8].
Lasting almost half an hour, structurally this is an extraordinary work! Generally speaking it's an extended set of variations based on a five-bar, chorale-like theme (FC). But what's more, it falls into four sections resembling the movements typically found in a symphony.
The first starts with low strings playing FC [00:01], which then undergoes several developmental transformations, ranging from beatific to gently swaying, and rhythmically angular. These build to a percussion-laced climax, and die away into the next part.
This is the equivalent of a slow movement, and begins with a lyricized version of FC [05:49]. The overall mood of these transformations is at first melancholy and yearning. However, the music intensifies into a rousing version of FC [09:43], and a dramatically commanding episode that gradually subsides.
After a brief pause, an antsy decorated version of FC [13:08] introduces a section, which seems the counterpart of a symphonic scherzo. It has twitchy, flighty passages juxtaposed with big tune renditions of FC [15:44 & 17:26]. Then horns introduce a reserved, heroic version of FC that kicks off the fourth and final part [18:16] in Richard Strauss (1864-1949) fashion.
Here the music escalates into a chromatic -- at one point tonally manic [23:07-23:30] -- FC-derived hymn of triumph, which gives way to a subdued segment [24:12]. Then we get the most momentous FC pronouncement yet [26:03], ending this “symphony of faith” in a state of spiritual ecstasy even surpassing that of Franck’s (1822-1890) revered D minor epistle (1888).
Serbian pianist Jasminka Stancul delivers a stirring rendition of the Fantasia made all the more impressive by the committed, sensitive support she gets from the German Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic (RPSP) under conductor Alexander Rumpf. The latter go on to give us enthusiastic accounts of the accompanying selections despite some occasional brass intonational malaise.
Made earlier this year in the RPSP’s Hall, Ludwigshafen, Germany, the recordings present a wide but sunken soundstage in a reverberant venue. The overall instrumental timbre suffers from a smattering of high end "digitalis" as well as a somewhat congested midrange, However, the bass is deep and well-defined. Ms Stancul's playing would have been even more striking had her instrument been better highlighted.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160927)
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Torke: Three Manhattan Bridges (pno & orch), Winter's Tale (vc & orch); Yang/Albers/Miller/Albany SO [Albany]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Born and trained in America, Michael Torke (b. 1961) has established himself as one of today’s most sought after composers. Having written a substantial body of works that fall into every genre, the two on this Albany release are among his most recent (2014-5), and feature the same artists who premiered them. Concertos at heart, both are brilliantly scored, and abound with that exhilarating vitality typically found in his music.
The piano takes center stage in Manhattan Bridges (2015), which the composer tells us is a concerto meant to capture the feelings of strength and grace these structures convey. Consequently, each of its three movements is named for one, the first being "George Washington Bridge" [T-1].
This begins with a rising brass riff (RB), suggesting the towers at each end holding the suspension cables. Then we get a tolling (no pun intended) piano theme succeeded by a busy, wind-ornamented development. The latter brings to mind all manner of vehicles in transit, and the sound of automotive horns. After that there are a couple of cadenzas, the last of which [07:12] is of Rachmaninov (1873-1943) persuasion. These are interspersed with some lyrical tutti passages that could depict the majestic Hudson River flowing below.
The movement's ending begins excitedly [09:42], ebbs into some more wistful river thoughts [11:21], and then turns frenetic [12:47] with colorful piano embellishments. Here it's easy to imagine rush hour traffic, after which the music concludes in jazzy Gershwin (1898-1937) fashion.
Driving down Manhattan's East Side we come to "Queensboro Bridge" [T-2], which is a sedate reverie for piano and orchestra. The composer may have been thinking of the dawn scene in Woody Allen's film Manhattan (1979) when he wrote this.
And journeying further south there’s the legendary "Brooklyn Bridge" [T-3] pictured on the album cover. The jazzy opening theme has a Ravel (18785-1937) twinkle [00:00]. It’s explored, and followed by a charming lyrical melody (CL) [01:51], having the simplicity of a Gershwin tune.
CL is rhapsodized, and succeeded by a return to the movement's opening mood. Some bravura bridgework then ends the piece with some fireworks and romantic tutti recollections of CL.
Winter's Tale is a cello concerto inspired by lines from William Shakespeare's (1564-1616) similarly titled comedy (c. 1611; see 22 November 2010). Although its five movements are melodically as well as harmonically independent, rhythmically they're palindromic. That is they follow an allegro-andante-largo-andante-allegro schema. The andantes are respectively subtitled "Perdita's Flowers I" and "Perdita's Flowers II" after a character in the play, who's somewhat of an Elizabethan flower child.
The antsy first "Allegro" [T-4] features a vivacious cello accompanied by an equally animated tutti. It's a demanding role for the soloist, where there's never a lax moment! The music twists and turns, finally ending on a sustained note anticipating the next movement.
This is an "Andante" [T-5] that begins with an upward four-note riff (U1) [00:01]. U1 triggers a "minimalistically" repetitive song for the cello with a colorfully decorated accompaniment. Then there's a development that chases its own tail, a tiny cadenza [03:57], and the music ends with U1 just like it began.
Slowing down a little more we get a "Largo" [T-6] starting with a U1-related idea (U2) [00:01]. This becomes a rocking, lullaby-like cello serenade with frequent reminders of U2.
Then we get another "Andante" [T-7] commencing with another U1-like motif (U3) [00:01]. U3 is followed by music similar to the previous "Andante", but it’s a bit more whimsical, and ends with a repeat of U3.
The closing Allegro [T-8] opens with a rhythmically twitchy variant of U1 (U4) [00:00] followed by a virtuosic, U4-inspired workout for the soloist. The most minimalistic music on this disc, the soloist and orchestra play a game of tag ŕ la Philip Glass (b. 1937). There's also a striking cadenza [03:52-04:29], after which the work ends expeditiously.
Cellist Julie Albert and pianist Joyce Yang give technically dazzling, totally committed performances of their respective pieces. Together with the Albany Symphony Orchestra under its music director David Alan Miller, they make a strong case for these recent Torke concertante creations.
Made in one of American's finest venues, Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, Troy, New York, the recordings project a comfortable sonic image in a warm acoustic. Ms. Albert's cello is beautifully captured and highlighted. However, the piano seems somewhat spread across the soundstage, and Ms. Yang's magnificent playing would have come across even more effectively had her instrument been better focused.
The instrumental timbre is generally good, but there is occasional digital grain in massed violin passages as well as the piano's upper registers. The midrange is pleasing, and while the composer's conservative scoring precludes any heavy bass, what's here is transient and clean.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P160926)
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Walter, Bruno: Pno Qnt, Vn Son; Liu/Vida/Peherstorfer/Häusle/Huber, Sato/Frolova [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
The year 1876 saw the birth of Bruno Schlesinger in Berlin, who’d go on to become one of the twentieth century’s best loved figures. But not by that name as he changed it in 1896 to Bruno Walter (1876-1962), to get his first conducting position in what was then Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland; see album notes).
He started out as a composition student at the Stern Conservatory, Berlin. But hearing a concert in 1889 by the Berlin Philharmonic led by Hans von Bülow (1830-94), Walter decided to concentrate on conducting, and would stop writing music around 1910. He soon established himself as one of Europe's best conductors. He also became a close associate and friend of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911; see 23 June 2006) as well as Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949; see 23 February 2011), and premier several of their works.
However, with the rise of Nazism and its anti-Semitic policies he was forced to flee Europe in 1939. Like Eugene Zádor (1894-1977), whom we told you about last time (see 31 August 2016), he came to the United States, and took up residence in the Los Angeles area of California.
He lived there for the rest of his life, but travelled extensively, building a worldwide reputation as one of the twentieth century's finest conductors. Accordingly, he left only a handful of works from his earlier years, two of which in the chamber category fill out this new Naxos release. Completed between 1904 and 1908, these superbly crafted, late romantic pieces make one wonder what other treasures he might have penned had he continued to compose. Incidentally these are the only readily available recordings of them currently on disc.
The piano quintet of 1904 is exceptional with a chromatic fluidity and sweep reminiscent of early twentieth century symphonic works by Mahler, Pfitzner and Richard Strauss (1864-1949). In four movements, all have German markings, the initial one being "Mit gross Energie" ("With Much Energy") [T-4]. This starts with a nervous trill, after which we get a three-note riff that's the beginning of a worried idea (WI) [00:03].
WI is followed by a lyrical retiring theme [01:12], and the two undergo an engaging development where the mood ranges from pensive to assertive, songful, coy and insistent. Then WI makes a disguised return [08:00], ending the movement mournfully.
The middle ones are each in ternary, A-B-A form. "Ruhig und helter" ("Calm and Serene") [T-5] has “A” sections featuring a delicate lyrical tune (DL) [00:00] with perky flourishes (PFs) [00:37 & 01:31]. They surround an introspective “B” built on a motif that undergoes a chromatic exploration spiced with PFs [01:52-03:46]. On the other hand, "Geheimnisvoll bewegt" ("Mysteriously Agitated") [T-6] features a diaphanous, otherworldly theme wrapped around a dynamic, carousel-like central episode [02:08-04:45].
The final "Feurig' ("Fiery") [T-7] begins with a brash, spun out idea. This gets off to an ominous, commanding start [00:01], and has a phrase somewhat recalling the opening of "All we, like Sheep..." in Handel's (1685-1759) Messiah (1741) (HM) [00:11]. Then there's a remorseful countermelody [02:02] with a Mahlerian lilt, and the two undergo a dramatic development [02:49]. This is succeeded by a big tune allusion to HM [05:00], which announces a jubilant recap. After that a scurrying final coda [06:53] concludes the work exultantly.
The three-movement violin sonata of 1908 would be Bruno's last piece of chamber music. Structurally speaking it's a shade more clear-cut than the quintet, and a virtuosic workout for both soloists right from the start of the first allegro [T-1]. This is in sonata form, and begins with a coloratura thematic nexus (CN) [00:01] followed by a reserved melancholy countersubject [02:08].
Both are subjected to an extensive, highly chromatic development [04:00], where we get a gorgeous romanticized reference to a phrase lifted from CN [05:42-07:23]. A brief recap heralded by a riff also found in CN [09:07] ends the movement tranquilly.
There's a salon feel to the andante [T-2], which is a panoply of varying moods. Moreover, the opening statement consists of an initial somber passage (IS) [00:00] and second tangoesque one (ST) [00:32]. After that this material undergoes three developmental episodes that are sequentially despondent [02:36], lullaby-like [04:24] and anxious [06:31]. Then the return of ST [08:00] and IS [08:44] end the movement full circle.
The closing moderato [T-3] resembles a rondo with a recurring two-part subject (R2) made up of an angular, skipping motif adjoining a dancelike melody. R2 appears three times [00:00, 02:32 & 04:44], each followed by a brief development that are respectively glowing [01:16], dramatic [03:05] and singing [05:06]. It then fuels a closing coda that starts peacefully [07:08], intensifies, and ends the sonata full force.
Each of these works is performed by a different group. The artists for the sonata, violinist Ekaterina Frolova and pianist Mari Sato, give excellent accounts of this demanding music. They instill it with great feeling, and an attention to detail that reveals all its delicate shadings, setting a new standard for this rarity.
As for the quintet, violinists Patrick Vida and Lydia Peherstorfer with violist Sybille Häusle, cellist Stafanie Huber and pianist Le Liu take center stage. They deliver technically accomplished, highly sensitive accounts of a long overlooked chamber masterpiece. Their meticulous phrasing, astute dynamics and well-judged tempos bring out all the intricacies of this exquisite score.
Made in 2012 and 2013 at the Joseph Haydn Hall of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, the recordings project a consistently generous, sonic image in a warm, richly reverberant venue. All of the instruments are perfectly placed, beautifully captured, and ideally balanced against one another. Demonstration quality sound makes this disc all the more appealing.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y160925)
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