CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 MARCH 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.
Fricker: Cpte Stg Qt Wks (Adagio & Scherzo, Nos 1-3); Villiers Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
English composer Peter Racine Fricker's (1920-1990) interest in music began when he was a teenager at St. Paul's School, London, and in 1937 he entered the Royal College of Music (RCM). We're told his training there was thoroughly conservative with a great emphasis on counterpoint, which would become a dominant factor in his works as evidenced below.
However, young Peter's musical endeavors were interrupted by World War II (1939-45). He'd serve in the Royal Air Force from 1941 through 1946, and following his return to civilian life in 1947, study privately for two years with the great Hungarian composer-cellist-educator, Mátyás Seiber (1905-1960; see 31 August 2015). He'd also became a professor of composition at RCM, and established strong associations with Morley College, London, where he succeeded Michael Tippett (1905-1998) as music director in 1953.
The year 1964 saw a big change of scene for Fricker, when he was appointed visiting professor of music at the University of California in Santa Barbara (UCSB). In 1970 he was given a permanent position, and became chairman of the music department. Consequently, he'd spend the rest of his life in the US. However, his connections with the homeland were never completely severed as he was president of the renowned Cheltenham International Festival of Music from 1984 through 1986.
Turning to his oeuvre, he left a significant body of works across all genres except opera. Stylistically they’re not the romantic, folk-oriented fare by such English contemporaries as Holst (1874-1934; see 23 January 2015), Vaughan Williams (1872-1958; see 16 December 2013) and Bax (1883-1953; see 10 November 2014).
Moreover, while they remain tonal, there are dissonances, contrapuntal striations, and a stringency recalling Schoenberg (1874-1951), Bartók (1881-1945; see 31 August 2015) and Hindemith (1895-1963). These stylistic mannerisms would seem to reflect the avant-garde proclivities of Peter's mentor, Mátyás Seiber (see above), whom he once pronounced "the greatest teacher of the 20th century".
This release has the only recordings currently available on disc of all Fricker's works for string quartet. The two earliest were written in 1943 during his military service, and would seem to be thoughts for middle movements of a quartet that was never completed.
The first of them is a ternary form Adagio [T-10] that opens with a mystic, undulating idea (MU) [00:00], which is briefly examined. It transitions into a twitchy, related episode [01:45], after which MU returns [02:52] bringing the piece to a wistful conclusion.
The other is a Scherzo [T-11], where plucky passages [00:01] alternate with a sinister, Dies-Irae-like motif (SD) [00:45]. Considering when it was written, the composer may well have meant SD to symbolize the horrors of WWII. The music then ends much the same way it began.
The earliest of his three completed quartets came five years later (No.1, Op. 8, F23, 1948), and is a single, fifteen-minute essay in seven conjoined, arch-like movements. The opening one [00:04] is anguished and hints at a sorrowful unifying theme (SU) that will appear in a couple of minutes. Meanwhile there are several dramatic pauses, the last of which is succeeded by an agitated arch [04:23].
This has jagged rhythmic riffs, contrapuntal spicing, and more suggestions of SU, which finally surfaces as the subject of a contemplative third arch [05:51]. SU then goes on to pervade the next three, which are sequentially mischievous [08:05], elegiac [09:40], and quarrelsome [11:49]. A wistful seventh [14:06] closes the work on a resigned, sorrowful note.
A year after he completed his first symphony (Op. 9, F24, 1948-9; not currently available on disc), it won a prestigious prize that led to an embarrassment of commissions. One was from the famed Amadeus Quartet, which occasioned his second effort in the genre (No. 2, Op. 20, F46, 1952-3).
Having three movements, it opens with an "Inquieto allegro" ("Restless and lively") [T-2], which gets things off to a jumpy start [00:00]. This hints at a jittery first thematic group (JF) [00:06] and a succeeding, somewhat related, chromatically meandering one (CM) [01:00]. A troubled, contrapuntally wiry development involving both JF and CM is next [03:05]. Then a JF-based fugato [05:57] begins a recap where CM comes back [07:12] to end the movement lethargically.
The next "Molto allegro" ("Very fast") [T-3] is a scherzo that begins with some repetitive pizzicato [00:00] followed by two contrasting ideas. Respectively flighty [00:08] and lullaby-like [01:22], they recur alternately in rondo fashion with the first having the final word.
The work closes atypically with an anguished Adagio [T-4], having a gloomy introduction [00:00]. This turns increasingly lachrymose with suggestions of an aloof, CM-derived theme (AC) [beginning at 00:35] that'll appear shortly. Then anguished passages with weeping rhythmic riffs [02:49] bridge into a tragic segment [04:02] followed by a fatalistic fugue with AC as its subject [04:46]. This ends the piece ambivalently with closing chords suggesting a glimmer of hope.
Apparently, the demand for new string quartets dropped off not long after Fricker finished the one above, and no commissions were forthcoming for another. However, the 1971 appearance of American composer Eliot Carter's (1908-2012) third inspired Peter to begin a new one in 1974. Completed two years later (No. 3, Op. 73, F152, 1976), he dedicated it to Carter "In Admiration".
Consisting of five curt movements, it's the most progressive music here, and teeters on the atonal. This will challenge any who find Carter's later music more of an intellectual exercise than an immediately pleasurable listening experience. That said, those willing to give it a couple of spins will find it rewarding.
The initial "Presto -- Poco meno mosso" ("Fast -- But not too agitated") [T-5] begins [00:00] and ends with passages featuring an extended cerebral theme for the cello (EC), recalling the chromatic peripateticism of Max Reger (see 30 March 2008). They surround a twitchy episode [02:32-03:11], and conclude the movement tranquilly.
An "Allegro feroce" ("Fast and fierce") [T-6] opens with stabbing chords [00:00] over which avian themes wing their way [00:20, 00:43 & 01:12]. Then we get an "Adagio" [T-7] with repeated rising passages. They're like smoke from a smoldering campfire, from which there’s a momentary burst of flame [02:32-03:10].
The pace again quickens in the last two movements. "Allegro inquieto" ("Fast and restless") [T-8] is a jittery segment with anxious, sawing motifs. It ends on a sustained note that begins the final virtuosic "Presto -- Variations 1-8 -- Coda piu presto", which is a sprightly theme and variations with a concluding coda. Here a detached, EC-like subject [00:00] is quickly followed by three variants that are sequentially lurching [00:22], songlike [00:46] and pleading [01:48].
An excited fourth [03:00] then leads to a pensive one [03:52] that turns into a mysterious variation [04:33]. After that swooping [05:02] and volatile [05:17] treatments introduce a pixilated coda [06:15], ending the work abruptly.
Back in 2014 we sang the praises of the Villiers Quartet (see 15 December 2014), and here they are again with more, rare English repertoire. Named after a street in central London, having strong musical associations, the group's technically accomplished artists give us spot-on readings of these pragmatic scores.
The recordings were made over the past two years at The Church of St. John the Evangelist in London's Upper Norwood district. They project a consistent, comfortably sized soundstage in agreeable, reverberant surroundings that add a touch of warmth to Fricker’s feisty creations. The instruments are ideally placed, well balanced, and the string tone lifelike. This release will appeal to those looking for some challenging music as well as any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170331)
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Juon: Rhapsodische Sinfonie, Sinfonietta Capricciosa; Jenkins/Bam S [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A couple of years ago we told you about a wonderful disc of Russian composer Paul Juon's (1872-1940) chamber music on the Musiques Suisses label (see 30 September 2015). Since 2008 three CDs with more of his repertoire in the same genre have appeared on CPO (see 777278, 777507 & 777883).
With this release they turn their attention to two of his last three symphonic works. Both date from 1939, and these are the only recordings of them currently available on disc. Incidentally, the album booklet will regale you with more topsy-turvy, stream-of-consciousness program notes by that maven of musicological mumbo jumbo, Eckhardt van den Hoogen (see 31 August 2016).
The program starts with Rhapsodische Sinfonie (Rhapsodic Symphony), which Juon himself once described as epic and monumental. In that regard it consists of two substantial sections, lasting a little over twenty minutes each.
The first marked Commodo (Comfortably Paced) [T-1] is a pair of tandem, movement-like segments, the initial one being in modified sonata form with two protracted themes. The opening idea is introspective with Slavic folk associations recalling Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Russian Easter Overture (1888) (PI) [00:01].
PI is expanded [02:30], and succeeded by a lyrical second thought (PL) [03:46] that blossoms amorously [05:40] ŕ la Max Steiner (1888-1971; see 18 April 2011). Then it turns rather fateful [06:21] recalling Mahler's (1880-1911) dramatic moments. Incidentally both PI and PL will recur in the second section.
A brief triumphal development is next [07:35], which transitions into a recapitulation that opens tranquilly [09:29]. This becomes increasingly excited with moments bringing Puccini's (1858-1924) later efforts to mind, and then slowly subsides.
After a momentary pause [12:33], a subdued drumroll and hushed strings introduce the next segment, which is an adagio with hints of PL [13:37]. This is a rapturous outpouring that rises to an emotional climax, and then fades, bringing the first section of the work to a peaceful conclusion.
The second one marked Allegro marciale (Martially Fast) [T-2] is a singular Juon creation best described as an extensive theme and variations with a sonata form superstructure. The opening statement consists of an oafish main theme (OM) along the lines of those folksy melodies in Goldmark's (1830-1915) Rustic Wedding Symphony (No.1, 1877).
OM is repeated in several orchestral guises [00:00-00:57], and followed by an extensive development that’s a spate of variations. The first two are skipping [01:14] and jubilant [02:02]. But then the mood darkens and we get ominous [02:42], keening [03:04], resigned [04:30], and mournful [05:51] ones.
After that a mysterious variant [06:23] initiates a sizable episode with some convoluted transformations that become increasingly religious. This gives way to a cheeky pizzicato number that turns martial [09:10], and makes a triumphant transition [09:53] into a chorale-like, fugal segment [10:00].
Next there's a respite with sequentially playful [11:29], pastoral [12:38], and pugnacious [15:10] variants. And then this complex development concludes with an initially melancholy number, which blossoms into a passionate serenade recalling fervent moments in Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Der Rosenkavalier (1909-10), and maybe even Franz Schreker's (1878-1934) Die Gezeichneten (1913-5) [16:05].
The P1-initiated recapitulation that follows [19:19] has all the excitement of Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) wilder moments. Moreover, there’s a big tune reprise of OM [20:34] and final dash of PL [21:21], which end the work ecstatically.
Filling out this enterprising release we get Sinfonietta Capriccioso, whose title reflects the composer's intent to characterize this work as lyrical, capricious and playful. In three movements, the initial “Moderato” [T-3] is another modified sonata form offering with two thematic groups.
The first (G1) begins with low pizzicato strings [00:00], over which an airy impressionistic melody appears [00:07]. The music becomes agitated, and descends into a second group (G2) that starts with a gorgeous Russian-sounding tune [01:51], and ends in dramatic horn calls.
Then after a short pause the strings introduce a rhythmically antsy development [03:38] of all the foregoing. Schreker may again come to mind here, but this time around it would be his more skittish passages.
The foregoing transitions into the return of G1 [07:12], which begins a recapitulation and an excited G1-G2-based coda [10:47]. In some ways, this anticipates Hindemith's (1895-1963) more playful moments, and concludes the movement smilingly.
There's a solemnity reminiscent of Myaskovsky (1881-1950; see 15 March 2007) about the “Adagio molto” (“Very slowly”) [T-4], which is a ternary offering with prayerful beginning and ending passages. They surround a more lyrical episode [02:52-05:21] with some wind decorations that bring tamer moments in Stravinsky's (1882-1971) Rite of Spring (1913) to mind.
The final Allegro [T-5] is another singular Juon creation best described as a loosey-goosey theme with machinations. Namely, it starts with a capricious march-like subject (CM) [00:00] that's subjected to several developmental treatments. The first is initially retiring [01:18], but becomes increasingly excited with an underlying tune (UT) [02:04] that may sound somewhat familiar. Moreover, UT bears a remote resemblance to the principal theme from the slow movement of Haydn's Emperor Quartet (Op. 76, No. 3, circa 1799), which became the German National Anthem in 1922.
Then we get a frivolous waltz episode (FW) [03:21] with more snatches of UT [03:21 & 03:52], which gives way to a big tune version of CM [04:14], It atrophies into a couple of low string pizzicato thumps [04:51] succeeded by an ominous drumroll, which introduces a downcast CM variant [05:00].
This gains in confidence and becomes quite valiant [05:44], leading to a wistful segment [06:51] that turns jolly. It brings the return of FW [07:49], and some dramatic passages with a final hint of UT [08:28]. The latter transition into an FW-derived, rhythmically spiky coda [08:50], ending the piece capriciously.
English conductor Graeme Jenkins and the Bamberg Symphony make a strong case for these two late Juon works. Maestro Jenkins careful attention to dynamics, phrasing and tempos brings out all the subtleties of these highly sophisticated, intricately structured scores. Late romantic enthusiasts won't want to be without them!
This release was a coproduction of CPO and Bavarian Radio (BR) done two years ago in the Bamberg Concert Hall's Joseph-Keilberth-Saal, Germany. The recordings present a lush, generously proportioned sonic image in warm surroundings. However, depending on your system settings, some may find the sound skewed a bit right, and want to tweak their balance controls accordingly.
The instrumental timbre is pleasing with piquant highs, a somewhat pinched midrange and clean bass, making for a disc that falls a tad short of demonstration quality. But that’s a minor consideration with Russian repertoire this rare.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170330)
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Kletzki: Sym 2; Marek: Sinfa; Godlewski/Rösner/KatPolRNa SO [Mus Suiss]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This recent Musiques Suisses release offers two rarely heard orchestral works by Polish-born, German-trained composers. We introduced you to one of them, Paul Kletzki (born Pavel Klecki, 1900-1973), seven years ago (see 25 April 2010), while the other, Czeslaw Marek (1891-1985), makes his CLOFO debut.
Completed around 1926, this is the world of premiere recording of Kletzki’s second symphony. Many will remember him as one of the twentieth century's great conductors known for his superb Mahler (1860-1911) interpretations. And like some of that great Austrian composer's symphonies, this one has a vocal dimension with a last movement that’s a lied.
It opens with a large-scale sonata form “Allegro con fuoco” (“Lively with fire”), lasting almost twenty minutes. Jagged intervals and rhythms characterize the first thematic nexus (JN) [00:01], bringing to mind vibrant moments in the Sibelius (1865-1957) symphonies. JN is explored, and succeeded by a sighing, introspective bridge hinting at a second lyrical idea (SL) that’s soon heard [03:55]. Then there's a dramatic development [06:12] that’s in two parts. The first ends with a big tune reappearance of SL [09:25] followed by a strident forte chord and pregnant pause.
The second starts with skittish hints of JN [10:52], and has heroic passages streaked with SL. Next, tranquil reminders of JN (15:42) announce the recapitulation. They become increasingly intense with whiffs of SL [beginning at 16:13], and end the movement in a burst of joy.
The “Andante sostenuto” (“Slow and sustained”) [T-2] is a theme and variations that begins with a winsome lilting main subject (WL) [00:00]. This is followed by a dozen variants, the first being pastoral [00:58], hymnlike [02:06] and heavenly [02:58].
Then the mood turns increasingly hellish. Moreover, the next are fiery [03:27], satanically alluring [04:28], and diabolical with an intensity recalling Brahms' more (1833-1897) insistent moments [05:30]. The foregoing culminates in a frantic seventh that’s a fugue of damnation [05:55].
But good prevails in the closing five, the first two being peaceful [06:57] and idyllic [07:13] as in the opening measures. Finally, there are romantic [07:30], resigned [08:10], and questioning [09:16] ones, with the last ending the movement somewhat ambivalently.
Then we get a pugnacious scherzo marked “Allegro ma non troppo” (“Lively, but not too fast”) [T-3]. Here triumphal militant passages surround two docile trio sections [02:22-03:30 & 05:04-06:40], providing a breath of fresh air before the tragic concluding movement.
Marked “Pesante” (“Heavy”) [T-4], this is a setting for baritone of a poem by Swiss teacher-writer Karl Stamm (1890-1919). The album notes include the original German text, but no translations. Suffice it to say it's an expressionistic threnody bemoaning the horrors of World War I (1914-8).
The music is out of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde (1908-9) and headed towards Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) later operas. Somnolent orchestral passages introduce the soloist who sings about a sleeping world, and war-related woes of mankind. Peaceful closing orchestral chords end the work with a sense of regret tinged with hopes for the future.
The other composer represented here, Czeslaw Marek, studied in Vienna with Karl Weigl (1881-1949; see 30 November 2015 and then Strasbourg, France under Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949; see 23 February 2011). Upon graduation in 1914 he began teaching piano at a conservatory located in what was then Lwów, Poland, now Lviv in the Ukraine.
However, his career was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, which resulted in his fleeing to Prague. Then in 1915 Marek secured a passport that allowed him to take up residence in neutral Switzerland. He'd spend the rest of his life there except for a brief stint in 1929 as director of the conservatory in Poznan, Poland. Incidentally, during his first Swiss years he became good friends with Ferruccio Busoni (1866-1924), and probably knew Philipp Jarnach (1892-1982), whom we introduced you to last month (see 28 February 2017).
Marek's Sinfonia in einem Satz (Symphony in One Movement, 1928) fills out this release [T-5]. In his own words, “it’s a synthesis of neo-classical tendencies with a lyricism related to the early Romantic spirit, and derived from Polish folklore." Accordingly, there are stylistic nods to Stravinsky (1882-1971), Szymanowski (1882-1937; see 18 February 2009), and even Bartók (1881-1945; see 31 August 2015). Structurally speaking, at almost half an hour, it’s probably best described as a humongous sonata-rondo.
The opening statement begins with slow, subdued wind and string passages [00:00] hinting at a folkish, wistful theme (FW) that soon follows [00:41]. It undergoes an exploration, which waxes and wanes into a capricious FW-related countersubject (FC) [03:26]. FC is contemplated, leading to a romantic bridge [05:30], engendering a gorgeous lyricized version of FW (FL) [06:05] with some afterthoughts. Then there's a pause [07:10] succeeded by a development with a triumphant reminder of FL [10:42].
After another short break, FC announces a recapitulation [14:31], where FL returns [17:17], and becomes the subject of a brief rhapsody. This fades and transitions via some celestial passages [18:31] into ominous groundswells [19:25]. These portend a series of explosions [21:09], and as the smoke clears [22:29] there are wisps of past ideas.
Then a sustained pianissimo note in the brass [24:27] brings the return of FW [24:36], which introduces a final, ambulant coda. This concludes with a sad reminder of FL [26:49], thereby bringing the sinfonia full circle. From both the structural and scoring standpoints, late romantic orchestral music doesn't get any better than this!
Austrian conductor Thomas Rösner and the Polish Radio National Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) of Kattowitz (Katowice) give stirring accounts of both scores. In the last movement of the Kletzki they're joined by Polish baritone Mariusz Godiewski, whose voice and delivery ideally complement their efforts. Incidentally, this version of the Marek now takes pride of place over what little competition is currently out there.
A coproduction of Musiques Suisses and Polish Radio, the recordings were made in the NOSPR Concert Hall, Kattowitz. They project a robust soundstage in an enriching venue. The orchestral timbre is characterized by highs that are occasionally brittle in massed violin passages, a good midrange, and tight rock-bottom bass. The soloist is well captured and balanced against the orchestra. That said, those having a sound system with a pleasantly rounded upper end may find this CD demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170329)
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Levina: Pno Concs 1 & 2; Lettberg/Matiakh/Ber RSO [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Female composers have been far and few between in these pages, let alone Slavic ones. But joining such greats as Polish Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969; see 28 April 2013), please welcome Ukrainian-born Zara Levina (1906-1976). Almost an exact contemporary of Graznya, Zara began as a keyboard wunderkind, who gave her first recital when she was only eight. She then studied piano at the Odessa Conservatory, completing her training at the tender age of fourteen.
Then having decided to become a composer, Zara moved to the Russian Capital, and attended classes at the Moscow Conservatory, where her teachers included fellow Ukrainian Reinhold Gličre (1875-1956) and Nikolai Myaskovsky (1881-1950; see 15 March 2007). Graduating in 1932, she became a highly respected pianist-composer, and would spend the rest of her life there.
Her early years in Moscow were difficult ones. Moreover, she experienced the vicissitudes of World War II (1939-45), and culturally repressive Stalinist regime that lasted through the early 1950s. However, she weathered them well, and managed to produce a modest number of works.
They're mostly vocal except for some solo piano pieces, and the two selections on this release. Both are significant contributions to the body of Russian romantic piano concertos by the likes of Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) and Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951).
The first, which was completed in 1942, is a generally elated work that's in the usual three movements. The initial “Allegro” [T-1] begins with scurrying piano passages [00:01] that may bring to mind Shostakovich's (1906-1975) first effort in the genre (1933). These soon give way to swaying scales [00:17], over which the tutti introduce a lush wistful melody (LW) [00:28] that owes a debt to Rachmaninov. It blossoms into a big romantic countermelody (BR) [01:05] with a sanguinity that would seem to characterize most of Levina’s music.
LW is the material for a blockbuster cadenza [01:29-02:07], which announces a development. This begins with a condensation of the preceding ideas [02:08], after which the soloist quietly introduces [02:38] a rhapsodic orchestral episode [03:05]. Then some hectic piano passages [04:52] initiate a fiery, aggressive segment for all [04:56] highlighted by another demanding cadenza [06:07-06:54].
After that the tutti return playing a plodding version of LW [06:55]. This atrophies into an introspective episode [07:49], and more solo piano work [08:26] that turns increasingly virtuosic.
It heralds a manic orchestral bridge [11:01] into an LW-initiated recap [11:27], where BR soon reappears [12:04]. Then both ideas power a magnificent coda [12:27] that ends the movement with a forte chord of optimism [13:46]. Incidentally, there’s a falling chromatic motif (FC) here [13:13], which will also figure in the next concerto.
The soloist begins the “Andante” [T-2] contemplatively, and is soon followed by a hushed, mysterious tutti. The music gradually builds to a climactic, LW-related theme (CL) [06:00] that quickly subsides into a sparkling playful episode [07:19].
It's succeeded by a CL-based, killer cadenza [08:37-09:34] that subsides, giving way to the return of the orchestra [10:07]. Then both soloist and tutti conclude the movement in the same spirit it began. Zara's delicate scoring brings to mind that of "The Mighty Handful", or "Russian Five" (Mily Balakirev (1837-1920; see 28 October 2008), Alexander Borodin (1833-1887), César Cui (1835-1918), Modest Mussorsgsky (1839-1881), and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908; see 14 July 2014).
The concluding allegro [T-3] begins in fiery, syncopated fashion [00:00] recalling Shostakovich's obstreperous moments. Then there's a rollicking ditty introduced by the clarinet (RD) [00:08], which will be the subject of this cheeky, somewhat droll rondo.
RD is immediately tossed about by all with woodblock knocks [00:38] ŕ la Prokofiev (1891-1953), and then played sneeringly by the trumpet [01:57]. This triggers the longest cadenza yet [02:29-05:02], which becomes pensive, and introduces a peaceful, pastoral respite [05:14] succeeded by a dramatic pause.
Then chortling winds bring back RD [06:20] that’s pulled every which way by a jeering orchestra soon joined by the soloist [07:22]. The music becomes progressively deranged, only to slow, and erupt into a big tune version of RD [09:11]. Zara thrillingly manipulates this into an ecstatic closing coda [09:58], which ends the concerto with an effulgent eruption of joy.
Her second written in 1975 is a much darker creation. It was conceived when she was suffering from fatal heart disease, and haunted by thoughts of impending death. This "cardiac concerto" -- shades of Mahler's incomplete tenth symphony (1910; final realization by English musicologist Deryck Cooke (1919-1976) in 1976) -- would be her last work, and apparently she considered it her best.
In a single twenty-minute span [T-4], having three conjoined movement-like segments, it opens with a threatening orchestral crescendo [00:01]. After that the piano introduces an extended fatalistic idea (EF) [00:39] that recalls FC (see above), and will infect the entire work. Then the tutti appear with timpani heartbeats [01:03], and passages that build with Prokofiev-like percussion into the musical equivalent of a coronary thrombosis [02:50].
This is followed by a brief pause, after which the piano scurries out of the recovery room [03:11] into initially hectic, EF-laced passages that turn rhapsodic [04:27]. Then there's a flighty bridge into an antsy segment [06:36], which surprisingly enough morphs into a waltz [07:36].
But not for long, as we soon get another heart seizure [08:04]. However, the piano once again survives, and ushers in a hopeful section [08:57]. This ends with a sudden snap of the slapstick [09:44], which is immediately succeeded by a fractious EF-riddled episode that turns momentarily lyrical [11:18].
Spooky tutti [11:49] then introduce an EF-chime-enhanced, LW-based (see above) funeral march (LF) [12:12] that gives way to lachrymose piano passages [13:00], followed by grieving low strings [13:53]. But the mood slowly brightens, and the music waxes into a cheery ditty [15:49] vaguely reminiscent of Mexican composer Juventino Rosas' (1868-1894) salubriously buoyant "Sobre las olas" ("Over the Waves", 1891).
Then the soloist starts a sinus-rhythm-accented segment [16:11] that fades into LF-derived passages [17:29]. These begin to fibrillate [18:04], and run amuck ending the concerto with the sudden finality of a massive heart attack. Despite the dark circumstances underlying this work, Levina gives us a rousing concerto you'll not soon forget!
Our soloist, Swedish pianist Maria Lettberg, is devoted to unearthing forgotten treasures, and has already released CDs with the complete solo piano works of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) and Erkki Melartin (1875-1937; see 31 July 2016). Now she gives us this magnificent disc of discovery with dazzling performances of two little-known concertos. Another talented, up-and-coming young lady, French conductor Ariane Matiakh, and the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra provide outstanding support.
A coproduction of Capriccio and German Radio (DLR), the recordings were made last April in DLR's Brandenburg Studio 1, Berlin. They present a wide soundstage that's romantically awash in what must be cavernous surroundings.
The piano is dramatically captured and well balanced against the orchestra. As for the overall instrumental tone, it’s characterized by pleasant somewhat grainy highs, a lush midrange, and boomy bass drum strokes. While the disc may not be demonstration quality, there's a pleasing, overall musicality that will appeal to those liking wetter sonics.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170328)
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Soro: Sinfonía romántica, 3 Chilean Airs, Danza fantástica, Andante appassionato (orch); Domínguez/Chile SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A couple of months ago Naxos released some colorful music by Peruvian composer Celso Garrido-Lecca (b. 1926; see 31 January 2017), and now they head south of the border, down Chile way. This time around they give us several orchestral selections by one of that country's first symphonists, Enrique Soro (Enrique Soro Barriga, 1884-1954).
Born in Concepción, Chile, to Giuseppe Soro, a cultivated Italian musician who'd settled there in 1870, and Pilar Barriga, a local school teacher, he and his siblings were brought up to appreciate the arts. He received his first musical training from his father, but that was cut short by Giuseppe’s death when Enrique was in his teens.
However, Pilar managed to get her promising youngster a grant from the Chilean government to continue his musical education in Europe. Accordingly, in 1898 he sailed for France, planning to study at the Paris Conservatory. But one thing led to another, and he finally attended the one in Milan, where his father had gone forty years before.
Graduating in 1904, Enrique won the prize for best student of the year, and after a brief stopover in Paris, returned to Chile. He then embarked on a happy, productive career, becoming a highly esteemed pianist, composer, conductor and teacher. However, his wife died in 1944, and from then on we’re told he led a somewhat grief-stricken existence.
Soro would leave a modest number of orchestral works, and those included here, which date from between 1916 and 1942, highlight his symphonic efforts These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The concert opens with his rousing Danza fantastica (1916) [T-1], which is a brilliantly scored number derived from the third movement of an earlier Suite for Strings (1905; not currently available on disc). It opens with a flamboyant, pounding episode (FP) [00:01] worthy of Manuel de Falla's (1876-1946) wilder dance moments. FP is followed by a lovely swaying melody (LS) [01:03] that aptly demonstrates Soro's considerable melodic gifts. Then the two ideas alternate with a triumphant LS, and frenetic touch of FP closing the work excitedly.
Jumping ahead, we get a set of Tres aires chilenos (Three Chilean Tunes) written in 1942. As it turns out, this is one of his few pieces inspired by Chilean folk music. Moreover, while the themes are all original, their structure, harmony and rhythm are borrowed from the Spanish-inspired tonada found in central Chile. They presage the Peruvian tondero found in sections of Garrido-Lecca's Retablos sinfónicos and Suita peruana (1980 & 1986; see 31 January 2017).
The first marked "Allegro ma non troppo" ("Lively, but not too fast") [T-2] is a sprightly ditty with a charming, playfully prefaced, songful tune (CS) of Iberian persuasion [00:13]. CS recurs in rondo fashion, taking on a variety of colorful guises. These range from lyrical to timpani-accented, dreamy, and finally imperious.
A suggestion of Soro's Italian background comes through in the succeeding ternary form "Moderato" [T-3]. Moreover, the outer sections are reminiscent of the melody for that old favorite Neapolitan song "O sole mio" ("My Sunshine", 1898), and surround a vivacious tarantella-like episode. Then it's back to Chile with a rhythmically arresting, tuneful "Allegro moderato" (“Moderately fast”) [T-4], recalling livelier passages in Granados' (1816-1916) Spanish Dances (1892-1900).
According to the composer the melody for the next Andante appassionato (Slow and passionate) [T-5] came to him in a dream during his Milan days (1902). He goes on to say those were youthful times full of hope and love, both of which characterize this amorous tidbit. Originally for piano, he'd make several different arrangements of it. The one here is a delicately scored version for full orchestra done fourteen years later (1916).
Filling out this release we get the main attraction, Soro's Sinfonía romántica Romantic Symphony of 1921. In four movement lasting almost forty minutes, it was the first, and remains the most important work in this genre by a Chilean composer. The initial sonata-rondo marked "Allegro moderato" (“Moderately fast”) [T-6] starts dramatically [00:01], hinting at a recurring thematic nexus (TN) soon to come. TN begins buoyantly [00:55], and has a joyful emphatic riff [01:28] succeeded by a suggestion [01:41] of the next idea. This is a relaxed tune (RT) [02:02] that brings Elgar's (1857-1934) more pastoral moments to mind (see 15 March 2008).
Next TN returns [02:39], powering an agitated bridge [02:39] followed by a suspenseful caesura. This leads to a masterful development of all the foregoing [03:26] with an emotional intensity worthy of Tchaikovsky (1864-1949). Then a big tune version of TN announces a recap [08:04], ending in an RT-TN-derived coda, which concludes the movement exultantly.
The "Adagio" [T-7] is a moving bit of melancholia for sighing strings and piquant winds. It's offset by a whimsical “Scherzo” [T-8] with darting outer sections surrounding a lyrical trio [02:04-03:44].
The finale marked "Allegro con brio" (“Lively with spirit”) [T-9] starts with a joyous, "Hallelujah-like" theme (JH) [00:01]. This is repeated, chromatically manipulated, and followed by a moody, Eastern-sounding melody (ME) [02:11].
ME is explored, and gives way to an extended development that begins with manic rising sequences [03:55]. These build to an overpowering climax followed by a pregnant pause [06:13], after which the development resumes on a nostalgic note. The music then bridges into a recapitulation announced by the return of JH [08:30] and ME [10:40]. Finally, both ideas are amalgamated into a explosive coda [12:02] that ends the sinfonia with a burst of joy.
Last summer we told you about a magnificent ballet by Chilean composer José Luis Domínguez (b. 1971; see 30 June 2016), and now here he is wearing a conductor's hat! Maestro Dominguez leads the Chile Symphony Orchestra (CSO) in stunning performances of this pioneering symphonic music by his little-known compatriot. Careful attention to dynamics, phrasing and rhythmic detail along with spirited playing by every member of the CSO bring out all the intricacies of Soro's brilliantly scored works.
Made in 2015 at the University of Chile's Center for Extensive Arts and Culture (CEAC) Theater, Santiago, the recordings present a wide but somewhat distant soundstage in copacetic surroundings. Scored for a conventionally sized orchestra, the instrumental timbre is characterized by resplendent highs, a pleasing midrange, and lean clean bass. Those with high-end systems favoring lows will most likely find this release more rewarding from the sound standpoint.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170327)
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