CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JANUARY 2017
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.
Caetani: Cpte Stg Qts (2); Alauda Qt [Brilliant]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Composer Roffredo Caetani (1871-1961) came from a distinguished Italian family. His father was at one time Mayor of Rome, served as the country's foreign minister, and met many influential people. They included Franz Liszt (1811-1886), who'd become a close family friend and Roffredo's Godfather.
The great Hungarian pianist-composer soon recognized his godson's musical talents, and arranged for him to study with his finest student in Italy, Giovanni Sgambati (1841-1914; see 16 February 2013). At that point Caetani decided to become a composer, and would further his education in Berlin and Vienna.
By the early 1900s he'd established a significant musical reputation, and would move to Paris, marry and raise a family. Then in 1932 he returned to Italy, where he'd live out his life, and leave a modest body of works. They include many chamber pieces, two of which are the string quartets filling this release. His sole efforts in the genre, these are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Written at age seventeen (1888), the first quartet marked "Op. 1" is in a single extended span [T-4], lasting just over thirty minutes. Comprised of six contiguous arches, the first has a dramatic preface [00:00] succeeded by a frenzied episode [00:38] hinting at a delightful folksy ditty (DF) soon heard [02:22]. A chromatic exploration is next, morphing into a subdued arch [05:14] with a wistful yearning theme (WY) [05:55 & 06:11] that’s extensively developed.
There's a pause, and then we get a troubled version of WY [13:42], which spawns an agitated arch. This slows, and after a brief rest, resumes [15:38] with hints of DF [17:22]. These slacken into an arch [18:44] where pensive outer passages surround a brief distracted episode [19:23-20:14].
Next DF returns in a mournful guise [21:16], giving rise to a sad weeping arch, which becomes increasingly lachrymose, and fades away presumably concluding the quartet in despair. But it seems the youthful composer couldn't make up his mind how to end the work, and we get a closing arch with three DF-WY-related afterthoughts. They’re sequentially fugato [30:18], spacey [31:35] and virtuosically scurrying [31:56], finally bringing this extended rondoesque creation to a close.
The second quartet was completed in Paris sometime around 1907, and strangely enough Caetani uses the "Hungarian Gypsy Scale" (HGS) at various points in all three of its movements. As the album notes point out, this seemingly reflects the influence of his Godfather, whose music is frequently based on that. The familiar chordal melody for the right hand at the beginning of his Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14 (1847) is a good example of it.
The initial "allegro" [T-1] gets off to a weeping start [00:01]. It's succeeded by a yearning, anxious passage [00:43] hinting at a rustic folkish ditty (RF) that soon follows [02:43]. RF is then explored, and reappears [06:59], becoming the subject of a dramatic development. This ends in a pleading, RF-related coda [09:35] concluding the movement disconsolately.
An emotionally wrenching "molto lento" is next [T-2], which finds the composer at the height of his creative powers. It's a harmonically exquisite, late romantic elegy that'll grow on you with each hearing.
Then the quartet in a virtuosic "presto" of Magyar persuasion [T-3]. This opens with an HGS-derived thematic nexus that has an impetuous opening riff (IO) [00:00], followed by an excited complementary motif (EC) [00:05] and a frenetic, galloping idea (FG) [00:08]. IO and EC are repeated [01:03 & 01:07], ushering in an IO-related seductive countersubject (IS) [01:10], and all undergo a dramatic development [01:38].
It concludes with the reappearance of FG [04:24] that's subjected to some chromatic aberrations. They end with the return of IO [05:57], EC [06:01] and IS [06:05] followed by a wistful afterthought. Then there's a brief pause and we get an IS-based episode [06:34]. This fades, and IS returns sadly [08:04], only to erupt into a closing coda that ends the quartet with an excited reminder of EC [08:29].
Ever since Haydn's (1732-1809) day, the lark seems particularly honored when it comes to string quartets. Moreover, he named one of his after it (Op. 64, No. 5, 1790), and now there's an American performing group called that (see 28 April 2013), as well as the Alauda Quartet (AQ) featured here, presumably named after a genus of that bird.
The AQ was established six years ago (2011) at the Royal Academy of Music in London, and includes an international group of young musicians. It's met with critical acclaim all over Europe, and hearing this release you'll understand why! All four of its members give technically accomplished, highly sensitive accounts of these two little-known quartets, making this a concert well worth the price of admission.
Made last summer in St. Andreas Church, Hannover (Hanover), Germany, the performers are generously spaced in reverberant surroundings. While all this enriches the music, it creates a marginally less defined sonic image that will appeal to those liking a wetter sound.
The strings are generally lifelike with maybe a hint of blur in the upper registers, but the midrange and low end are good. On that note, those having sound systems that go down to rock bottom will notice some sporadic rumblings, which may well have been occasioned by passing thunderstorms.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170131)
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Casella, Alf.: Divert for Fulvia (orch; w Donatoni, Ghedini & G.F. Malipiero); Iorio/SvizItaliana O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Here's an orchestral antipasto whipped up by those discerning Naxos people featuring works by each of four Italian composers born between 1882 and 1927. These are the only versions of them currently available on disc, and three are world premiere recordings indicated by "WPR" after their titles.
The program begins with Alfredo Casella's (1883-1947; see 13 July 2012) eight-movement Divertimento for Fulvia of 1940. This honors his daughter of that name (b. 1928), and the music has an interesting history.
Moreover, its outer movements were written in 1940, while the inner six are distilled from his ballet for children, The Room of Drawings (1940; currently unavailable on disc), which utilizes ten of Casella's Eleven Children's Pieces for solo piano (1920). The stage work’s scenario involves a child's picture book with drawings that come to life, and twelve-year-old Fulvia was in the original corps de ballet.
Marked "Sinfonia" ("Overture") [T-1], the divertimento begins playfully, and finds Alfredo in a neoclassical frame of mind ŕ la Igor Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Pulcinella Suite (1922). It's linked to an exotic "Allegretto" [T-2] followed by a whimsical "Valzer diatonico" ("Diatonic Waltz") [T-3], and an Eastern-sounding, folklike "Siciliana" ("Siciliano") [T-4].
Then we get "Giga" ("Gigue") [T-5] based on the melody for a folk song from Tyneside, England, known as "The Keel Row". Incidentally, Claude Debussy (1862-1918), who was one of Alfredo's colleagues during his Paris years, uses this in the first of his Images for Orchestra (1905-12) titled "Gigues".
You'll find "Carillon" [T-6] a fey tintinnabular offering, while "Galoppo" ("Galop") [T-7] is as advertised. The latter may bring to mind Manuel Rosenthal's (1904-2003) Gaîté Parisienne ballet pastiche (1938) based on Offenbach (1819-1880) themes.
After that the work ends in a ternary movement whose first "Allegro veloce" ("Cheerfully Fast") [T-8] evokes fairyland images. Then there's a giddy, thirty-second "Valtz" ("Waltz") [T-9] that must be the world's shortest, and final "Apoteosi" ("Apotheosis") [T-10], which owes a great debt to another of Alfredo's Paris associates. Moreover, it's lifted from the "Fairy Garden" conclusion of Maurice Ravel's ballet, Ma mčre l'Oye (Mother Goose, 1912). which also started as a set of children's pieces, but for piano duet (1908-10).
Next up, Franco Donatoni (1927-2000), who makes his CLOFO debut with a work having the rather prosaic title Musica (Music, 1954-5; WPR). This comes from a composer who first studied under the conservative Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968; see 10 September 2010, and then somewhat more progressive Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003, see 18 February 2013. But he became increasingly avant-garde, and eventually as adventurous as his compatriot Luciano Berio (1925-2003; see 22 March 2012).
Along the way he was strongly influenced by Béla Bartók (1881-1945) as evidenced in his prize-winning Concertino (1951; currently unavailable on disc), and then the Second Viennese School (1920-30s) composers. In that regard he tells us the four-movement Musica was written after spending months studying Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) Variations for Orchestra (1926-8). Accordingly, it's of serial temperament, and starts "Largo" ("Slowly") [T-11] with a restrained tone row. This turns raucous, and then subsides ending the movement in the same mood it began.
The fidgety succeeding "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately Fast") [T-12] is neoclassically spiced ŕ la Stravinsky, and accented with wooden knocks on blocks. It's offset by a dodecaphonically queasy "Adagio" ("Slowly") [T-13] having sporadic tick-tock riffs [beginning at 00:52] a tad reminiscent of Haydn's (1732-1809) Clock Symphony (No. 101, 1793-4). There are also fleeting phrases [beginning at 01:42] that could be out of a Rossini (1792-1868) overture.
An antic "Allegretto, con vivacitŕ" ("Joyful and Vivacious") [T-14] concludes Musica with giggles, whistles, grins and a big sneeze. Hearing this cleverly wrought creation makes one wonder why the composer once called it his worst piece.
Moving right along we get an outstanding discovery from a composer we introduced you to a couple of years ago, Federico Ghedini (1892-1965). It's a modern-day throwback to Baroque times in the form of a Concerto grosso for wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn & bassoon) and strings dating from 1927 (WPR). Consisting of five movements, the initial "Largo -- Allegro con brio" ("Slowly -- Lively with Spirit") [T-15] begins broodingly in late Beethoven (1770-1827) fashion, and then turns brisk, taking its cue from Handel's (1685-1759) concerti grossi.
The "Andante moderato, un poco pesante e gravemente" ("Moderately Flowing, a Little Heavy and Serious") [T-16] is a lovely serenade based on a songful melody that could be out of an early Verdi (1813-1901) opera. It's succeeded by "Allegro mosso ed energico" ("Lively with Agitation and Energy [T-17], which is an infectious, imitatively adorned frolic that ends in midair.
A pensive "Adagio" ("Slowly") [T-18] is next with spacious wind solos that strangely enough auger Aaron Copland's (1900-1990) more wide-open themes. Then the concerto ends with a vivacious "Allegro spiritoso, 'alla giga'" ("Lively with Humor, 'a Jig'") [T-19], which is a rustic caper bringing to mind playful moments in Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) orchestral works.
Closing out this release there's music by a colleague and close friend of Casella's, Gian Francesco Malipiero (1882-1973; see 17 November 2007). In his younger days Gian Francesco suffered great emotional as well as financial hardships, but managed to study for a year in Vienna, and then Bologna, where he graduated in 1904. However, more bad times lay ahead, and at one point he said World War I (1914-8) had totally disrupted his life (see the fact-filled album notes).
Then around 1920 he took up residence in Rome, where he finally made a satisfying artistic career for himself. Part of this involved the theatrical world, and his writing incidental music for stage productions by several experimental playwrights. Some for Achille Ricciardi's (1884-1923) Oriente immaginario (Imaginary Orient, 1920; WPR) is featured here.
Also marked as "three studies for small orchestra", it begins "Leggermente mosso" ("Slightly Agitated") [T-20]. Here the winds introduce a chromatic Eastern-sounding melody (CE) [00:05] followed by a swaying countersubject (SC) [01:20]. In "Alquanto lento" ("Somewhat Slowly") [T-21] mysterious shimmering passages preface an oriental episode that begins with SC [00:46], and becomes supernally exotic with reminders of CE [beginning at 02:15]. These are worked along with SC into a haunting close.
The final "Non troppo mosso" ("Not too Agitated") [T-22] is rondo-like with a chortling CE-derived theme. It recurs in several colorfully scored guises, after which the music ends with some chirps from the winds, and a final drum-enforced harrumph. Like Ravel's orchestral works, which the composer knew from his Paris days (1913), these studies show his consummate skill in getting a big sound from a small orchestra.
As Donatoni had done with Musica above, Malipiero disparaged Oriente..., at one point calling it "horrible". However, if he'd heard this immaculate rendering of it by the Swiss Italian Orchestra under Damian Iorio, he'd undoubtedly have changed his mind! Their playing is technically perfect, and Maestro Iorio's well-judged tempos, meticulous phrasing, and astute dynamics bring out every detail of this work, to say nothing of the other three.
The recordings were made four years ago by Radio Svizzeria Italiana (RSI) in their Stelio Molo Auditorium in Lugano, Switzerland. They're stunning, and present an ideally sized, perfectly focused soundstage in warm accommodating surroundings.
These brilliantly scored pieces are full of passages calling for many individual as well as small groups of soloists, which the RSI personnel have magnificently captured, balanced and highlighted. The overall instrumental timbre is totally convincing with sparkling highs, an impeccable midrange, and clean transient bass. This easily joins the ranks of classical orchestral demonstration discs.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170130)
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Garrido-Lecca: Andean Folk…, Sym Tableaux, Peruvian Ste, Laudes II; Harth-Bedoya/Norw RO/FortWor SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Peruvian composer Celso Garrido-Lecca (b. 1926) makes his CLOFO debut with this recent enterprising Naxos release. Celso began his musical education in Lima (1944-50), and sought further training in Santiago, Chile (1950-4). He also studied at
However, the 1973 military coup forced his return to Peru, where he taught at the National Conservatory in Lima, and would eventually become its Director (1976-9). An active composer during this entire time, he'd continue writing until a few years ago, and has created a substantial body of works, many of which have won awards.
While he started off as a serialist, his subsequent efforts are accessible and of late romantic persuasion with folk overtones. The four symphonic selections on this CD fall into the latter category, and are all world premiere recordings.
The five alternately fast and slow Danzas populaire andinas (Andean Folk Dances, 1983) are not just arrangements or local ditties, but original works written in Peruvian folk style. They're scored for chamber orchestra with the addition of a guitar and the charango, which is a small Andean lute.
You'll find the initial "Alegre" ("Cheerful") [T-1] an engaging romp, whereas there's a wistful air about "Lento" ("Slow") [T-2]. They're followed by a haughty "Ritmico" ("Rhythmic") [T-3] and leisurely "Andante" ("Walking") (LA) [T-4].
In conclusion, we get another "Alegre" ("Cheerful") [T-5], which has a bumptious first episode (BF) succeeded by an LA-related pensive idea (LP) [00:42]. Then BF returns with a brief reminder of LP [02:11] to end this captivating suite in the same spirit it began.
The next selection is a four-part Retablos sinfónicos (Symphonic Tableaux, 1980), and again dance-associated. It has a mystical, somewhat ominous "Introduction" [T-6] that gives way to "Dansak" [T-7], which is Garrido-Lecca's take on the Peruvian scissors dance. Here each of the participants holds a pair of scissor blades in one hand, which are struck together in time to the music.
A folk frolic that's a test of coordination as well as physical endurance, there are fetching, vivacious passages interspersed with peaceful rustic ones. It ends energetically, and then the work's opening mood returns in a haunting "Triste --" ("Sad --") [T-8].
This is immediately followed by a brilliantly orchestrated "Tondero" [T-9] based on a dance from the northwest corner of Peru. The scoring includes the cajón [00:00], which is a wooden box played like a bongo drum. This rhythmically infectious offering begins at a low magmatic boil, and erupts via lovely melodic passages into a frantic cavort. Then the work ends excitedly in a Coplandesque coda [06:37]!
The following six-part Suita peruana (Peruvian Suite, 1986) is for string orchestra, and a musical travelogue reflecting traditions from various parts of the country. The initial "Juego de terceras" ("Game of Thirds") [T-10] gets its name from that musical interval, which apparently pervades Peruvian folk music. It's certainly much in evidence here, and gives this section a sorrowful weeping lilt.
A sense of dolor haunts the succeeding "Negrito de Malambo" ("Negro of Malambo") [T-11]. It reflects the music brought by African slaves (1550-1824) to the Malambo area of Lima during Spanish colonial times.
Then the pace quickens in "Sicuri" [T-12] named after those who play the sicu, or siku, which is an Andean panpipe. It's based on a catchy tune with a familiar folksy ring, and followed by "Quena y antara" ("Quena and Antara") [T-13]. This honors another couple of Andean wind instruments (i.e. the notched flute and another type of panpipe) with some airy, quixotic music.
Next there's "Torito de Pucará" ("Little Bull of Pukara") [T-14], whose title recalls one of the typical ceramic figurines found in the Puno region. Accordingly, the music conjures images of a proud bull, alternately pawing the ground and presumably pondering a matador.
Then the work closes with another "Tondero" [T-15], which is a much shorter, more reserved version of the one closing Retablos sinfónicos above. It ends the suite festively, but with a touch of nostalgia.
This release is filled out with Laudes II (1994), which is a follow-on to the composer's Laudes I of 1962 (not currently available on disc). Having a title based on the Latin word "laudare", meaning to praise, this piece honors the Tao concept propounded by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu (aka Laozi, 6th c. BC) in his Tao Te Ching.
The most progressive work here, it's in three movements that might best be described as tonal impressions. The initial "Moderado" ("Moderate") [T-16] juxtaposes inchoate passages with fretful ones. These would seem to represent the "Tao", or notion of "mindfulness" in Buddhist philosophy, as opposed to anxiety-provoking everyday thoughts.
The next "Lento, meditativo" ("Slow and Meditative") [T-19] starts like the previous movement, but becomes increasingly anxious. Then after a dying drum roll [03:37], it vanishes like something lost in the mists of time.
Then there's a "Vivo, jubiloso" ("Alive and Jubilant") [T-18], which is a raucous discourse for the winds over a poignant, percussive background. There's an unruliness about this brilliantly scored movement that brings Charles Ives (1874-1954; see 31 March 2011) to mind, and ends the work with a final shriek.
A couple of orchestras are featured here under Peruvian-born, American-trained Miguel Harth-Bedoya. The Chief Conductor of the Norwegian Radio Orchestra (NRO), he leads them in rousing performances of Danzas..., Suite peruana and Laudes II. Also Music Director of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra (FWSO), Miguel gets an equally spirited account of Retablos sinfónicos from them. One couldn't ask for more authoritative readings of these works.
The NRO recordings were done on three occasions during the past two years at the Norwegian Radio and Television (NRK) Store Studio in Oslo. They consistently present a robust soundstage in a marvelous, enriching acoustic that makes this score all the more appealing. The instrumental timbre is totally musical with sparkling highs, realistic mids, and clean, rock-bottom bass.
The FWSO recording was taken from a live 2010 performance at the Bass Performance Hall, Fort Worth, Texas. However, adept microphone placement, touch ups, and editing assure no extraneous audience noise or applause. In comparison to the NRO ones, the sonic image is less impressive and in a leaner venue. As for the instrumental timbre, the highs aren’t as natural sounding as the mids and lows. That said, the Norwegian recordings are certainly audiophile, but not the US one.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170129)
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Nixon, H.C.: Concert Ov 3, Palamon and Arcite (sym poem), Romance for Vn & Orch; Török/Mann/Kodály PO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The adventurous Toccata folks unearth more buried Anglo-symphonic treasure (see 31 May 2016) with this release devoted to another undeservedly forgotten British composer. It's the first of three volumes featuring the extant orchestral works of Henry Cotter Nixon (1842-1907), who began his musical training in Hull, England (1855-9). He'd then move on to London, where he continued his studies, and became increasingly active as an organist, violinist, pianist and conductor.
Unfortunately, by 1872 London's terrible smog of the time forced him for health reasons to continue his career in Sussex by the sea. However, sometime between 1889 and 1891 he returned to London for his remaining years.
Henry began composing during his student days, and would leave a considerable body of works across all genres (see the extensive album notes). But for reasons unknown as of this writing, practically nothing has come down to us from the last ten years of his life.
This initial release includes three selections. While the influences of Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Schumann (1810-1856) and Brahms (1833-1897) are quite apparent, you'll find an engaging naiveté and zest that make these singular Nixon creations.
The disc opens with Henry's third concert overture subtitled "Jacta est Alea" (c. 1880s) [T-1], which shows his love of Latin epithets, and translates as "The Die is Cast". This implies a programmatic aspect to the work, considering it's Julius Caesar's (100-44 BC) legendary remark when he led his army across the Rubicon River into Italy to take over Rome (49 BC).
However, no underlying story is provided, and in hopes of giving you a better idea of the music, we'll make one up as we go along. Incidentally, prior to this recording the work existed only as an error-riddled manuscript with no orchestral parts. Consequently, the version done here is a meticulously edited and scored labor of love by conductor Paul Mann.
In modified sonata form, the opening introduction [00:01] is of relaxed, Brahmsian persuasion, and hints at the first theme soon to come. This is proud with a Schumannesque angularity (PA) [02:16], and seemingly represents Julius. It's explored, and bridges into a related pastoral meandering countermelody (PM) [05:18] possibly of Rubicon association. PM is briefly toyed with, and followed by a stormy portentous passage (SP) [06:43] that could be interpreted as dramatizing Caesar's words.
Next PA returns [07:44] presumably as Julius and his troops cross the river and march into Italy. Then SP [09:09] reminds us of his determination, and abates into memories of PA [10:16] and PM [10:37]. These are worked into a jubilant coda [11:59] that closes the piece triumphantly.
The Romance for Violin and Orchestra (c. 1889) [T-2] is another invaluable Mann reconstruction, this time based on orchestral parts as the full score is lost. A rondo-like piece, it opens with orchestra and soloist playing a lithe, rapturous melody (LR). This is repeated, pondered, and followed by a related, wistful countersubject smacking of Mendelssohn [03:47]. Then the two ideas recur in a couple of guises with some virtuosic moments for the violin, and the work ends with an excited reminder of LR [09:27].
Filling out this release we have Palamon and Arcite inspired by and titled after the knights in English writer John Dryden's (1631-1700) poetic retelling of The Knight's Tale from Geoffrey Chaucer's (c. 1343-1400) The Canterbury Tales (1386). Nixon called his creation a symphonic poem, and dating from sometime in 1882 this would have to be one of the first in that genre written by a British composer. Moreover, lasting almost fifty-minute, it anticipates Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) later, more extended programmatic orchestral works.
The album notes give a detailed description of the music and its relationship to the underlying storyline, so we'll only mention the high points in each of its five sections. The first entitled "The Battle" [T-3] opens anxiously, and erupts into a combative episode depicted with Mendelssohnian vehemence [05:04]. Then calm prevails [06:17], and the movement ends in dolorous tranquility, presumably representing a carnage-strewn battlefield.
"Emilie" [T-4] introduces our heroine of that name. Also referred to as "Emily" and "Emilia", she's the stepdaughter of Theseus, who's the local King. This section features a valiant, highly demanding, passage played by four horns [01:59], which apparently represents the bond between our two Knights (see above) as "brothers-in-arms".
It's followed by a comely "Emilie" theme introduced by the clarinet (CE) [05:27], and when our heroes see her, it's love at first sight for both. The music then builds to an amorous CE-fueled climax, and the movement ends apprehensively over this potentially volatile love-triangle.
Next we get "The Dream" [T-5] depicting one Arcite has, in which he receives instructions from the Greek Messenger God Hermes (see the album notes). While the ghost of Mendelssohn is again present, there's a chromatic aura auguring Richard Strauss. This section also features a commanding brass idea (CB) [03:10] that's the basis for a transcendent, CB-related oneiric ending.
The plot thickens in "Encounter and Combat" [T-6], which begins with an air of pastoral innocence. Then increasingly troubled passages herald a violent combat between Palamon and Arcite over their mutual ladylove. However, King Theseus intervenes, and orders them to stop. He goes on to tell them they must return in a year with a hundred knights each for a humongous joust, whose victor will get the fair Emilie's hand.
This sets the stage for closing section entitled "The Tournament" [T-7]. It begins with chivalrous brass fanfares, after which the contest ensues to pugnacious passages [05:43] with Arcite emerging the winner. But there's what might be interpreted as a deus ex machina in the form of an earthquake [03:36].
This knocks Arcite off his horse, which falls crushing him to death, and is cause for a grief-stricken episode [03:44]. But sadness turns to joy with the return of the opening bars [05:43] and CE [07:14] as Palamon gets Emilie even if by default. Then the music ends joyfully, presumably with them living happily ever after.
Paul Mann not only restored the first two selections (see above), but elicits enthusiastic performances of them from the Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra (KPO). Named for a Hungarian, who's remembered today as a great teacher and composer (1882-1967), they’re joined by violinist Ana Török for the Romance, which she plays with great sensitivity.
Then Maestro Mann leads the KPO in a committed account of Nixon's protracted symphonic poem. And on that note, one wonders whether this piece might have come across more effectively with a little "Mannhandling" to condense its wealth of thematic material into a single span of shorter length.
Made at the Pásti Synagogue in Debrecen, Hungary, the recordings present a marginally recessed sonic image in reverberant surroundings. This along with Nixon's conservative scoring make for a lean sound. Moreover, the instrumental timbre is characterized by steely highs with some grainy upper passages for the violins, including Ms. Török's. As for the midrange and bass, they're somewhat gaunt, which may prompt audiophiles to tweak their equalizer-tone controls.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170128)
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Paterson: Moon Trio (pno), Sun Trio (pno), Elegy (2 vcs & pno); Clarem Trio/Ouzounian/Kwong [AMR]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
American composer Robert Paterson (b. 1970) studied at the Eastman School of Music with Christopher Rouse (b. 1949; see 15 January 2010), and holds music degrees from Indiana and Cornell Universities. Described by The New York Times as "a modern-day master", he's also been on the other side of the lectern, and taught at several prestigious centers of learning, including the Curtis and Cleveland Institutes of Music, as well as New York University.
That's to say nothing of over ninety works he's composed to date, many of which have won awards in every classical genre. This new release from American Modern Recordings (AMR) with the somewhat sophomoric title “Spheres” features some of his chamber music written over the past twenty years. It includes a couple of piano trios in addition to a selection for two cellos and piano. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The concert begins with Robert's Moon Trio of 2015, which is a programmatic four-movement piece with selenic associations. In the initial "Moonbeams" [T-1], descending phrases conjure images of moonlight falling on some arcadian lake. There are also fleeting rhythmic riffs that may represent aberrant lunar reflections on its rippling surface. Then things get wacky in "Lunatic Asylum" [T-2], which is an antsy scherzo that seems to have a droll allusion to the 1972 popular song "Dancing in the Moonlight" (1972) [01:16-01:35].
After that the pace slows in "Blue Moon" [T-3], which has bluesy impressionistic outer sections surrounding a cheeky pizzicato episode [03:04-04:02], And in conclusion, we find ourselves aboard a rocket ship for "Moon Trip" [T-4]. This cinematic offering blasts off with propulsive piano passages and fiery notes for the strings. Then an unearthly floating segment suggests a flight into outer space and around the moon. Recollections of the movement's opening bring a return to earth, and the work ends with a triumphant musical thumbs-up.
Night turns to day with the following Sun Trio. It’s a 2008 reworking of some discarded sketches for a documentary film score Paterson did in 1995.
The first of its five movements marked "Sun Day" [T-5] begins tranquilly with what could be daybreak. There are rhythmic accents resembling Scotch snaps that bring to mind the Scottish Highlands. Then lucent piano passages and brooding strings suggest fleeting clouds giving rise to patches of sunlight moving across the countryside.
"Sunset" [T-6] is a bizarre twilight tango with snatches of devilish themes for the strings borrowed from Stravinsky's (1882-1971) L'Histoire du Soldat (1918) [beginning at 01:30]. Then ever diminishing piano passages depict Old Sol disappearing below the horizon.
The nocturnal "Absence of Sun" [T-7] is in a single extended melodic line with a cello part modelled after the sitar-associated ragas of Indian classical music. All this gives the movement an improvisatory feel. What's more, there are recurring tone row descants [beginning at 00:21] meant to impart images of twinkling stars, and the sound of wind chimes.
Then it's "Sunrise" [T-8], which opens with an ascending eight-note motif [00:00] based on what's become known as the "mystic chord" that begins Alexander Scriabin's (1872-1915) Prometheus: The Poem of Fire (1910). This depicts the sun climbing ever higher, and is followed by a flickering expansion [01:41], which may represent the brightening sky.
After a brief pause we get a pastoral episode [03:31] with the strings suggesting early morning birds calling to one another. Then animated passages [06:37] seemingly indicate their taking flight, and end the movement ends with a couple of chirps.
The concluding "Sun Dance" [T-9] starts with nervous strings. They’re immediately followed by the piano playing a quirky motive. This is derived from one near the beginning of Anton Webern's (1883-1945) 5 Movements for String Quartet (1909), and succeeded by a variety of related ideas. These and some snap pizzicatos infect this percussively capricious movement, which ends the trio snappishly.
Between 1998 and 2000 Paterson wrote an Elegy for two bassoons and piano (see the album notes). While this is not currently available on disc, his 2006-8 transcription of it, in which he's replaced the woodwinds with a pair of cellos, comes next [T-10].
The work falls generally into four sections, and there are references in the rapturous first [00:00] to the 3rd and 5th of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) six unaccompanied cello suites (BWV 1007-1012, c. 1720). The second one is scherzoesque [03:14] with a jumpy piano and animated strings [03:14]. They bridge via a sustained piano chord into a meditative third [04:49], where the Bach material turns chorale-like.
After that the piano invokes [06:39] the fourth and final section [07:50], which reflects the composer's childhood fascination with the US space program. Moreover, it honors the Voyager 1 and 2 robotic probes launched forty years ago (1977).
It begins as a Bach-like celestial serenade for the cellos [07:50], followed by piano allusions to the first prelude from the second book of his Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 870-893), 1738-42) [08:45]. This was included on the golden record containing Earth pictures and sounds, a copy of which was on each Voyager -- No CDs back then!
Then the strings resume their song to some more of those starry descants (see "Absence of Sun" above), and the elegy concludes with a last pianistic flicker of power from the probes’ plutonium-238, thermoelectric generators. But their journey through the cosmos continue to this day. Who knows, maybe they'll have Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) or Starman (1984) outcomes.
The Claremont Trio, which takes its name from an avenue in northwest Manhattan, do well by the Sun and Moon. Both works feature superb, articulate performances by twin sisters Emily (violin) and Julia (cello) Bruskin, joined by the Claremont's founding pianist, Donna Kwong, for the former trio, and successor, Andrea Lam, in the latter.
Julia and Andrea along with cellist Karen Ouzounian deliver a heartrending account of Elegy. It's all the more affecting for the rich string tone captured by audio wizard Adam Abeshouse (see 20 June 2013) in all three works.
The recordings were made on a couple of occasions. Namely, Sun was done back in 2011, while the others date from last year. However, all took place at the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York City, which seems to be an ideal chamber venue (see 21 October 2013). With Abeshouse at the controls, they project a consistently lifelike image across a generous soundstage in optimal surroundings.
The instrumental balance is perfectly maintained throughout, and the piano, which presents a problem for many sound engineers, convincingly captured. There's just the right amount of percussive bite with no hint of that annoying, upper end digital grain so frequently associated with this instrument. In short, here's one for contemporary chamber music enthusiasts as well as any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170127)
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