CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 JUNE 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.
Higdon: Va Conc, Ob Conc, All Things Majestic; Button/Díaz/Guerrero/Nashv SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
We've told you about some of American composer Jennifer Higdon's (b. 1962) chamber music (see 27 August 2013), and here are three of her orchestral works. These are the only versions of them currently available on disc, and the two concertos are world premiere recordings.
The program opens with her viola concerto of 2014, which was commissioned by several American, music-associated institutions. These included the Library of Congress to honor the 90th anniversary of their Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge (1864-1953) concert series, the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, and Nashville Symphony Orchestra (NSO).
The latter two were instrumental in this recording as Curtis President, Chilean-American violist Robert Díaz, is our soloist along with the NSO. What's more, the composer allows as how it was Díaz' artistry and infectious personality that inspired her piece.
She also says viola repertoire tends towards the dark, heavy side, and her concerto is meant to be more celebratory with a real swing. Higdon lives up to her reputation for writing American-sounding music by instilling it with a rhythmic drive that borders on jazz-like.
It's in three movements simply marked "I", "II" and "III", which are respectively slow, fast, and then a combination of both. "I" [T-1] is a chromatic rhapsody (CR) [00:07], where the soloist intones lithe, extended ideas affectionately embraced by the orchestra. They reflect Higdon's belief that the viola sounds great playing long lines.
The pace quickens in "II" [T-2], which is a scurrying scherzoesque number (SS), in which the soloist and tutti play a percussion-accented game of tag. Then "III" [T-3] contrasts passages alternately related to CR [00:00 & 04:17] and SS [02:21 & 06:24]. They end the work with a cheerful chuckle.
Her single-movement, twenty-minute oboe concerto [T-4] gets off to a melancholy start with a plangent melody (PO) [00:01] for the soloist set to a sighing string accompaniment. Then after a short break, the oboe enters into a couple of developmental conversational exchanges with the tutti [00:56 & 02:40]. These become increasingly agitated, and fall off into two mischievous episodes [04:51 & 06:24].
They are followed by a pensive, PO-related segment [08:02], which bridges into an antsy one [10:48], having avian overtones and virtuosic oboe passages. After that the music becomes dreamy [14:19], bringing the concerto to a contemplative close with a sustained note for the soloist.
The composer is an avid fan of the US National Park (USNP) system, and was overjoyed to get a commission for something commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Grand Teton Musical Festival (GTMF) in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She's also an inveterate hiker, and preparatory to all this, trekked through the area with GTMF Music Director, Scottish conductor Donald Runnicles (b. 1954).
Accordingly, in 2011 she came up with the orchestral suite that closes this disc. Titled All Things Majestic, it's in four movements, which Higdon says represent musical postcards. That said, there's a cinematic, moment-to-moment informality about these tone pictures, which makes them background music in need of visual support, rather than stand-alone pieces.
So for the purposes of this write-up we've linked each of the movement titles to what seem like appropriate park photographs. The first three were taken around Jackson Hole, and the last some 800 miles south near Sedona, Arizona.
With bulging backpacks and walking sticks in hand, our initial stop is the "Teton Range" [T-5]. Here majestic chanting brass passages suggest towering peaks, while occasional pastoral spots seemingly represent peaceful mountain valleys and streams. Pounding percussion in the closing measures [02:48] make this scenery all the more overwhelming, and bring to mind the insignificance of man.
Then the movement concludes with an unresolved skyward flourish, setting the stage for the tranquil, mirrorlike "String Lake" [T-6]. Here it's easy to imagine soft breezes, and resplendent reflections of the surrounding mountains on the water's surface. Many may find this the suite's high point.
After that we journey on to the "Snake River" [T-7], which is a fluidic, rhythmically twitchy offering. It limns the sparkling eddies, currents and rapids along the course of this scenic stream as it winds along the Tetons.
Our last stop is "Cathedrals" [T-8], which we're told is meant to express the concept that parks are nature's counterpart of those imposing, manmade structures (see the album notes). Here delicate, twinkling passages [00:00, 02:36 & 06:38] alternate with powerful, brass-reinforced ones (PB) [01:22, 05:31 & 07:03]. These would respectively seem to connote the forces of nature at work, and resultant, awesome splendor of parks like the one linked to this movement's title (see above).
In that regard, the final PB becomes a reverent chorale [08:25], presumably extolling nature's handiwork. It brings the suite to an exultant conclusion with a last emphatic, bass-drum-enforced chord for full orchestra.
The NSO under their Music Director Giancarlo Guerrero deliver a rousing performance of this, and couldn't be more supportive in the two opening concertante works. As regards the first, soloist Robert Díaz' playing is superb with no hint of the pitch-related queasiness sometimes associated with the viola. Australian-born, NSO first oboist Button James Button is equally splendid in the second concerto.
These recordings were done live on a couple of occasions early last year in the Schermerhorn Symphony Center's Laura Turner Hall, Nashville, Tennessee. However, you'd never know it as skillful postproduction touch-ups and editing have eliminated any extraneous audience noise or applause. On the other hand, concert recordings commonly preclude an ideal microphone set-up. That along with this disc being cut at a relatively low level produce a wide, distant, reverberant sonic image.
While the soloists are effectively captured and balanced against the orchestra, the overall instrumental timbre is borderline. More specifically, it's characterized by bright, at times brittle highs, and a pinched midrange. As for the bass end, it's lean, reflecting Ms. Higdon's conservative scoring, but clean on those occasions where she calls for heavier forces.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170630)
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Nowowiejski: Quo Vadis (cpte orat); Soloists/Sulkowski/GóreckiCh C/FelNowW&M P [DUX]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
With this recent release, DUX Records revisits a long forgotten 1907-9 oratorio that was extremely popular in its day, and had chalked up an estimated 200 performances by 1939. Some will remember the underlying story from the Hollywood epic Quo Vadis of 1951 (see 25 July 2007), and may find a similarity to Edward Elgar's (1857-1934) choral works.
Feliks Nowowiejski (1877-1946), was born in what's now Barczewo, Poland. His father was a tailor, and he had a German mother, who had a great interest in the arts. She was also an accomplished pianist, and fostered her son's prodigious musical talent. In that regard, he began composing as a child, and eventually studied with Max Bruch (1838-1920) in Berlin (1900-2). While there, Feliks met a number of Polish intellectuals, and consequently developed a strong attachment to the culture of that country.
He'd leave a large ouevre of late romantic persuasion, which include many organ and symphonic works, as well as a significant number of vocal-choral compositions (see the informative album notes). The one here is scored for soprano, two baritones, bass, chorus, orchestra and organ. It's in five parts described by the composer as "dramatic scenes", and set to a German libretto by Antonie Jüngst (1843-1918), which is not included in the album notes. She based it on Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz's (1846-1916) eponymous novel of 1895-6 (see 31 October 2015).
Scene I titled "The Fire of Rome" gets off to a massive, ominous start for full orchestra with seismic organ support [D-1, T-1]. The composer employs leitmotifs throughout the oratorio, and we get two here. The first, which represents Christianity, is movingly reverent (MR) [00:00], and recalls Mahler (1860-1911), whom Feliks had met. The other, depicting the Emperor Nero (A.D. 37-68) and Rome's military might, is harshly bellicose (HB) [00:28]. Then a chorus of Roman citizens sing a rousing rejoinder about the wrath and vengeance of the Gods [D-1, T-2].
They follow it with an anguished number concerning the smoke that's covered Rome for the six days [D-1, T-3], and engage in a regal glorification of the Emperor [D-1, T-4]. After that there's an exciting finale [D-1, T-5] with brass fanfares surrounding a segment, where they ponder the fire's origin.
This bridges via a sinister drum roll into the next scene marked "The Roman Forum" [D-1, T-6]. It begins with pompous brass passages, heralding "March of the Praetorian Guards" [00:59], which was extremely popular back then, and performed all over Europe. Then their Prefect gets them and the Roman Mob to hail the "Divine Nero" [D-1, T-7].
He goes on to blame the fire on Christians, which invokes cries of "Christians to the lions" [D-1, T-8] from the assembled, followed by their singing a saucy, waltzlike number [00:20]. This presumably finds them looking forward to punishing the Christians by making them the subjects of a leonine feast in the Colosseum.
The third scene takes place in "The Catacombs" [D-1, T-9], where a sect of Christians is having a secret meeting. There's a pious instrumental preface with some heavenly harp, and then the Presiding Priest welcomes his followers [01:17]. They praise the Lord in a devout a cappella exchange. This includes a solo passage for the organ [04:24-05:06], which accompanies them in the closing measures [06:34].
After that the Priest sings an aria of alarm about the threat posed by Rome [D-1, T-10}. However, the music turns soothing as he comforts the assembled, and we get a gorgeous cantilena for the heroine of the story [D-1, T-11]. This is the lovely maiden Lygia, who avows to an ever more triumphant, organ-augmented accompaniment that she and her fellow Christians are prepared for whatever comes. Here reminders of MR [01:55] and HB [02:22] recall the conflict between Christianity and Pagan Rome.
There's a brief pause succeeded by an affecting declaration of faith from all [02:46], and the Priest saying he thinks God has spoken through her [D-1, T-14]. This sparks an MR-based brass fanfare [D-1, T-15] and benedictional chorus having a heavenly, harp-sequined accompaniment. Then the scene ends with low tremulous organ notes and a final "Amen".
The penultimate "On the Appian Way" recounts the episode in the novel where its two-word, Latin title appears. This scene is just for the Apostle Peter, and features an emotionally powerful orchestral accompaniment that at times recalls Wagner (1813-1883), and even hints at Schoenberg's (1874-1931) early works.
This has a dark orchestral introduction [D-2, T-1], after which Peter sings of his fleeing Rome along that legendary route [D-2, T-2]. He recounts having a divine vision involving Jesus, who's headed the other way. The Apostle asks him, "Quo vadis, Domine?" ("Where are you going, Lord?") [D-2, T-3].
The subsequent exchange leads to a downcast segment, where Peter feels ashamed of deserting his Christian flock [D-2, T-4]. But it's immediately succeeded by a triumphal one, where he decides to turn back and rejoin them [D-2, T-5].
This concludes with the words "...nach Rom" ("...to Rome"), which trigger the fifth and final scene titled "Ruins of the Colosseum". It commences with an exultant organ intrada [D-2. T-6], followed by an inspiring chorus [01:13], glorifying and praising the Lord. The latter turns into a stupendous, eight-voiced, double fugue [D-2, T-7], ending with another elated organ intrada [D-2, T-8].
Then all sing "Glory be to the Father, and to the Son...", after which the orchestra begins an MR-laced "Amen" [D-2, T-9] for everyone. This brings the oratorio to a heavenly ending with a final monumental MR [01:40] worthy of the last movement in Mahler's Resurrection Symphony (No. 2, 1884-86, revised 1893-96).
Soprano Aleksandra Kurzak (Lygia), baritones Sebastian Szumski (Priest) and Artur Rucinski (Apostle Peter) along with bass Rafal Siwek (Praetorian Prefect) are in fine voice, and deliver committed accounts of their respective roles. They receive excellent support from the Górecki Chamber Choir and Feliks Nowowiejeski Warmia & Mazury Philharmonic under Conductor Piotr Sulkowski. Last but not least, organist Arkadiusz Bialic deserves a big hand for his considerable contribution to this biblical extravaganza.
The recording was done last year at the orchestra's Concert Hall in Olsztyn, Poland. It presents an appropriately enormous soundstage in accommodating, pleasantly reverberant surroundings. The Polish engineers have admirably captured these massive forces, and keep them well balanced throughout.
The only audio quibble would be some graininess in the higher voices, which seems to be an innate CD shortcoming. It's too bad this wasn't a hybrid release as that probably wouldn't have been the case on the SACD tracks. Otherwise, the singing is lifelike, while the orchestra and organ are convincing. Generally speaking the overall sound is characterized by a pleasant upper end, except as previously noted, satisfying midrange, and clean, rock-bottom bass with some low, door-rattling organ notes.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170629)
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Pirchner: Cpte Pno Trios (3); Eggner Trio [Gramola]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The pretentious album notes suggest listeners who understand this cycle of three piano trios by Austrian composer Werner Pirchner (1940-2001) will find them a "Roman vom Menschen" ("Novel of Man"). Be that as it may, the music on this recent release from the Vienna-based Gramola label is entertaining to say the least.
Pirchner started as a jazz musician, and taught himself composition by studying scores of several composers, including Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) and Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992). His major creative efforts began in 1973, with these trios coming much later (1988-97). They're the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
They bear lofty titles, and their movements cryptic labels, all of which are in German. We've translated them as best we can, but you'll need a crash course in that language to understand the six-minute interview with the composer that concludes this CD [T-15].
Trio No. 1 (PWV 31, 1988) is dubbed "Wem gehört der Mensch...?" ("To whom does the human being belong...?"), and the first of its six movements, "Der Mensch gehört dem Staat. Umgekehrt!" ("Man belongs to the State. Vice versa!") [T-1]. Marked "Tempo: Ungezähmt" ("Tempo: Untamed"), the piano sets this in motion with a rhythmically syncopated riff (RS) plucked out on its strings [00:02] à la John Cage (1912-1992).
RS launches into a cocky theme (CT) [00:14] that's jostled about, and exits to a Latin beat [02:32]. Then there's a brief pause, after which the strings introduce a rhapsodic passage based on a songlike CT variant (ST) [02:50]. There are some underlying hints of CT on the piano [03:18-03:56], and the movement comes to a dissonant, queasy conclusion with a last chord of hope.
Werner seems to be protesting nuclear power with the next "Zwentendorf -- Wachersdorf. Ein Spaziergang nach Tschernobyl" ("Zwentendorf -- Wachersdorf. A walk to Chernobyl") [T-2]. Moreover, the referenced locations are the sites of Austria's first atomic power plant, which never became operational, an uncompleted German reactor fuel reprocessing facility, and that catastrophic 1986 nuclear accident in Russia.
Indicated as "Tempo: Innig" ("Tempo: Heartfelt"), it starts with the piano playing an ST-related, pensive subject [00:05], which the strings contemplate to some keyboard commentary. Then there's a pause, and some scurrying, pizzicato-accented passages [03:08]. They introduce a CT-related, restless episode [03:52] that ends the movement with a perfunctory plunk.
The succeeding "Die Pflicht zum Ungehorsam" ("The duty to disobey") [T-3] is simply marked "Dein Instrument" ("Your instrument"), and takes the form of a lament with blues overtones. It's succeeded by "Die Regierung -- unsere Angestellten" ("The government -- our employees") [T-4] that's "Tempo: unfassbar" ("Tempo: Incomprehensible"), and comes off like a madcap, rhythmically spastic scherzo.
After that things get really Cageian (see above) with something simply called "Tempo: SOS" [T-5]. This starts with the artists tapping out a rhythmic pattern on the frames of their instruments [00:00]. It mimics the three long and three short tones representing "S" and "O" respectively in the International Morse Code distress signal (··· --- ···). Then they play an amorous serenade [00:30] with some strange, single syllable vocalizations from one of them [01:23, 01:46 & 01:59], and a final "SO".
The closing "Pfeif wie ein Kind" ("Whistles like a child") [T-6] has no tempo marking, and is an innocent afterthought with the restlessness of a twelve-year old. It ends this bizarre offering uneventfully.
Trio No. 2 (PWV29b, 1988/92) called "Heimat?" ("Home?") has Bosnian War (1992-5) associations, and is derived from some of Pirchner's earlier stage music (see the album notes). In four movements, the opening "Aus dem Nichts?" ("Out of Nothing?") [T-7] opens with hushed, sighing strings [00:01] that play an ascending motif [00:11], which pervades the movement. It's the basis for a peaceful melody introduced by the violin [01:16] that builds and fades into the distance.
The mood turns bellicose in "Wiesel?" ("Weasel?") [T-8], which begins with an angry piano riff (AP) [00:00]. This is followed by sobbing string passages (SS) [00:07], and the two ideas alternate. Then the movement ends with a very aggressive AP, and dying memory of SS.
The third "Stimmungslied?" ("Mood song?") [T-9] is a lugubrious number intoned by the strings to a dark piano accompaniment. But it's offset by a frivolous, final "Freundlich?" ("Friendly?") [T-10] that asks a flurry of melodic questions. They remain unanswered just like the one Charles Ives (1874-1954) posed back in 1906.
Closing out this kooky cycle, there's Trio No. 3 (PWV 63, 1997), one of whose dedicatees is that age-old seasoning "garlic". The work is labelled "Heute... war Gestern Morgen. Heute... ist Morgen Gestern" ("Today... was yesterday tomorrow. Today... is tomorrow yesterday"), which brings to mind Scarlett's last words in Gone with the Wind (1939), quote, "... tomorrow is another day".
In three movements, the initial one sports two conjunct sections tagged "Gestern?" ("Yesterday?") and "Heute?" ("Today?"). The first [T-11] is a tinkly tidbit with a lovely tune (LT) initially played by the violin [00:39] that seems distantly related to Paul McCartney's (b. 1942) melody for the Beatles song Yesterday (1965) [00:39]. LT is subsequently given a more demonstrative, rhythmically energetic treatment in the next [T-12], which just quits in medias res.
After that there's "Drein sein -- beinander bleibn ..." ("Be there -- stay together ...") [T-13]. Here passages based on a staid, LT-related, glissando-laced idea [00:00] surround a skittering episode [00:55-01:20]. Then the trio concludes with "Gruß an die Knoblauch-Familie" ("Greeting to the garlic-family") [T-14].
This might best be described as a theme and aberrations that gets off to a spirited, jazzy start with an LT-derived main subject [00:05]. Seven quizzical variations follow, the first four of which are dissonant [00:40], dreamy [00:53], rustic [01:23], and coquettish [01:51]. Then things turn Cageian again (see above) with a sustained piano chord [02:24], and strange rubbing sounds [02:20] that may be the cellist dragging his bow across the instrument's bridge.
This oddity is succeeded by a tintinnabular variant [02:35], brief pause, and mystic passage [03:24 that closes with another Cageian touch. Here the pianist plays a final chord [03:50], which he holds with the sostenuto pedal, and reputedly throws a garlic bulb onto the vibrating strings [04:10].
Judging by the album cover pictured above, the three Eggner brothers, who make up the award-winning Austrian trio featured here, are fun-loving. Accordingly, they must have enjoyed making this album of oddball works by a composer, who was a close friend.
They deliver technically accomplished, virtuoso performances, making a strong case for this music. A good time must have been had by all, and maybe they even served up a garlic pizza!
These studio recordings were made a year ago at Tonstudio Wavegarden in Mitterretzbach, Austria, some sixty miles north of Vienna, and chamber music CDs don't come any better soundwise! The instruments are generously spaced in warm accommodating surroundings, and ideally balanced with violin and cello to left and right of the piano. There's no feeling of confinement frequently associated with smaller venues.
The strings are natural sounding, and piano lifelike with a percussively rounded tone. As we've noted before with conventional discs, the piano seems to be one of the most difficult instruments to faithfully reproduce. This CD proves it can be done -- audiophiles take note!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170628)
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Tansman: Sextour Ballet-bouffe, Bric à Brac Ballet en 3 tableaux; Borowicz/Michniewski/Pol RSO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Polish-born Alexandre Tansman (1897-1986) has been a CLOFO regular, and makes another appearance here thanks to the adventurous CPO label (see 20 June 2012). Having written several hundred works across all genres, this release gives us two of his eleven ballets. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Tansman began his musical endeavors in his native Poland, but around age twenty-two (1919) decided to further his career in Paris, where he had great success. The celebrated "Les Six" [Auric (1899-1983), Durey (1888-1979), Honegger (1892-1955), Milhaud (1892-1974), Poulenc (1899-1963) and Tailleferre (1892-1983)] even asked him to join them, but being of a very independent nature, he declined.
Unfortunately, like many others of Jewish heritage, Tansman was forced by Nazi conquests during the early years of World War II (1939-1945) to flee Europe, and in 1941 he came to the United States. But he greatly missed Continental life, and with the restoration of peace, returned to France in 1946, where he'd live out his years.
The two ballets included here were written during his earlier days in Paris. They have scenarios by French writer Alexandre Arnoux (1884-1973) that are well documented in the extensive album notes.
Sextuor (Sextet), which Tansman called a "ballet bouffe" ("comic ballet"), dates from 1923, and received its Paris premiere the following year. This would become an international success with performances in the United States (1926-7) and Berlin (1930).
Scored for a standard orchestra, it's a love story where the protagonists are six musical instruments, namely a violin, cello, flute, trombone, piano and bass drum. In the scenario most have proper names (see the album notes), but for simplicity sake we'll just refer to them as "V, C, F, T, P and B."
In one extended scene lasting almost twenty minutes [T-1], the curtain goes up to some exciting passages [00:00], followed by the celeste imitating a tuning fork [00:58]. It introduces a subdued mystical episode (SM) depicting nighttime in a deserted music salon, where the aforementioned instruments are asleep. They waken, and we get a couple of lilting numbers [beginning at 01:57] in which V and C court F, establishing a fatal love-triangle. These include a ravishing cantilena for V [05:08], in which he reveals his feelings for F.
It's succeeded by an agitated segment [06:30] where C slaps V [06:30], which is cause for an upcoming duel between the two. T and B lay out the rules for this confrontation [08:02] in passages that'll exercise your woofers. Then C and V battle it out [09:01] with V emerging the victor.
The music becomes coquettish as F appears [09:48], and morose with the death of C [10:24], which occasions a funeral cortege [10:42], smacking of "Les Six" (see above). Towards the end, celestial moments with bells rung by P presumably suggest C's soul soaring to heaven. Then we get a bubbly episode where V marries F [15:28], and a restrained number [16:06] with a hint of SM that brings this fictive farce to a peaceful close.
Moving along to 1935 we get the brilliantly scored Bric à Brac [T-2]. This is in three tableaux (scenes), and you'll find a detailed description of them as well as the stage action in the album notes.
It's set in a Parisian flea market, where there are all sorts of second-hand items for sale, and as the curtain goes up, there's a colorful crowd milling about. It includes merchants, bargain hunters, thieves, jugglers, and a number of curious bystanders.
The opening [00:01] is accordingly very busy, and followed by eight dance sequences. The most engaging are a fancy fiddling, hoedown [05:22], relaxed waltz [06:42], jazzy number with saxophone [09:12], that brings Alex's friend Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) to mind, and a fetching foxtrot [14:14]. The scene closes nostalgically with some solos for the violin, which figures heavily in the plot (see the album notes).
Music characterizing a more restrained crowd opens the next one [19:11]. It's followed by a George Gershwin (1898-1937) sounding segment [21:34], terrific Charleston-like (see 31 March 2011) episode [24:54], and a waltz [27:12] à la Chopin (1810-1849). Then the scene concludes dramatically with everyone rushing about.
The third and final one [30:42] takes up where its predecessor left off, and escalates into a thrilling dance spectacular for all. There are hints of past ideas, and it achieves a level of excitement worthy of that found in the early ballets of Alexandre’s good friend, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). It ends this imaginative, superbly crafted choreographic cavort on a jazzy high.
The Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (PRSO) delivers magnificent accounts of their countryman's music. Done at the Tansman Festivals held in 2002 (Bric à Brac) and 2014 (Sextuor), Lódz, Poland, these were the belated Polish premieres of both works. The former features conductor Wojciech Michniewski, and the other finds Lukasz Borowicz on the podium.
Although the recordings were done by different production personnel on widely separate occasions, both were made in the Lódz Grand Theatre. They project surprisingly consistent, wide, deep sonic images in reverberant surroundings.
The many solo groups that surface in these colorful scores are ideally captured and balanced, presumably thanks to good microphone placement along with careful mixing. That said, the overall instrumental timbre is characterized by bright highs, a vivid midrange, and somewhat boomy bass. This release should appeal to audiophiles liking a wetter sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170627)
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Veit: Cpte Stg Qts V1 (1 & 2); Kertész Qt [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Václav Jindrich Veit (1806-1864) was born in Litomerice, Czech Republic, 40 miles northwest of Prague, and in accord with common practice then, he'd use the Germanized version of his name, Wenzel Heinrich Veit. As a youngster, he was introduced to music by his father, who taught him violin, and would receive music lessons from a local teacher. While attending grammar school, he'd also play the organ in his spare time.
He'd then go on to study law like a couple of other composers we've told you about (see 19 December 2011 and 13 January 2014). This took him to Prague in 1821, but the death of his parents two years later (1823) meant he had to support himself, which he did by giving piano lessons and copying scores.
Although he also wanted to take composition lessons from one of the best teachers in that thriving metropolis, his earnings were only enough to cover his legal education. Accordingly, he pursued extensive self-studies in music theory and literature. The latter included the works of Beethoven (1770-1827) and Schubert (1797-1828), who was not that well-known back then.
Upon getting his law degree in 1828, Wenzel was torn between becoming a lawyer or following a musical career. He decided on the former, and 1831 found him holding a legal position in Prague, but moonlighting as one of that city's most sought-after piano teachers. He was also a member of a local string quartet, and regularly performed in the chamber music evenings so popular at the time.
Except for three months in 1841 spent as director-conductor of the city orchestra in Aachen, Germany, Veit would continue his legal career. Besides Prague, it would include appointments to regional courts in Cheb (1854-62), and finally his hometown (1862-4).
He was composing all the while, and would leave a substantial body of works, mostly in the chamber music genre. These subsume four string quartets, which Robert Schumann (1810-1856), whom Wenzel knew personally, felt had a similarity to those of Georges Onslow (1784-1853; see 25 April 2010). The first two appear on this initial installment in Toccata's series devoted to them. Both are premiere recordings.
In four movements each, the earliest (No.1, 1834) starts with a sonata form Allegro [T-1] whose first measures bring to mind those of Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet (No. 14, D810; 1824). They begin with a downcast theme (DT) having an opening five-note motif (OF) [00:03] that will dominate the movement.
DT is explored, and we get a closely related, Eastern-sounding version of it (DS) [02:19] that strangely enough augurs the initial melody from Borodin's (1833-1887) In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880). And on that note, there'll be another Russian connection in the third movement.
The opening is repeated [02:39], and we get an adept, development riddled with OF [05:20]. The latter then announces a recapitulation [07:14], and is the subject of a sad afterthought [09:36] that ends the movement dejectedly.
However, the mood brightens with a charming Menuetto [T-2]. This has graceful, genteel outer sections surrounding a playful trio (PT) [02:21-04:11], and concludes with a final reminder of PT [05:28].
Then we journey East for Hymne russe (Russian Hymn) [T-3], which is a theme and variations. The main subject (M1) [00:01] borrows the melody for "God Save the Tsar!", which was the Imperial Anthem of the Russian Empire from 1833 through 1917.
It's followed by four variants that are sequentially flighty [01:38], loquacious [02:42], wistful [03:52], and robust [05:59]. Then the movement ends with a coda recalling M1 [07:36]. All this brings to mind Beethoven's use of Russian themes in his string quartets Nos. 7-9 (Op.59, Nos. 1-3; 1805-06), which were commissioned by Count Razumovsky (1752-1836), when he was the Tsar's ambassador to Austria.
The finale [T-4] begins with a jagged four-note riff (JF) [00:01] that hints at a wiry theme (WT), which quickly appears [00:17]. WT is followed by a related, cheerful rocking idea [00:59], and the two assume varying textural guises as they chase each other about in rondo fashion. Then the work ends emphatically with a JF-based coda [06:41].
Written only a year later, the second quartet's (1935) is surprisingly more progressive, and begins with a slow, highly chromatic, mysterious Introduzione [T-5]. This hints at two themes soon to come in the next allegro segment of this sonata form movement.
The first of these is a buoyant innocent tune (BI) [01:08] that's explored, and the other a related, relaxed lyrical melody (RL) [02:13]. The latter bridges [03:34] into a fetching development [04:07] with some virtuosic touches [04:07], succeeded by a recapitulation [06:09], having a BI-based coda [09:06]. This ends the movement joyfully.
Next, there's a theme and variations marked Adagio cantabile quasi andante (Slow, Songlike and Flowing) [T-6], which well describes the main subject (M2) [00:01]. Five transformations follow that are sequentially ethereal [00:31], amorous [01:47], wistful [03:38], pensive [04:12], and agitated [05:09]. The last then turns peaceful recalling M2 [05:31], and ends the movement tranquilly.
After that we get a change of pace with a Scherzo [T-7], having impetuous outer sections characterized by an initial, cocky, descending theme (IC) [00:01]. These surround a coy trio [02:06-03:20] that reappears in the closing measures [05:08] underscored by IC.
The final Rondo [T-8] features a carefree recurring tune (CR) [00:00]. This is toyed with, and followed by two BI-RL-related ideas, which are respectively casual (BC) [02:07] and pleading (BP) [02:43]. CR, BC and BP are the lifeblood of several mischievous, exploratory episodes that include a CR-based flashy fugato [04:38].
Towards the end, CR introduces a coda-like segment [07:19] with fiddle fireworks [07:36], which suddenly quit! It then initiates [08:08] an agitated passage, closing the quartet emphatically.
Formed in 2010, the Kertész Quartet gives spirited, technically accomplished accounts of these works. Budapest-born, lead-violinist Katalin Kertész and her three English associates play on what the album notes refer to as historical instruments. Whether that adds any authenticity to their interpretations of this early nineteenth century chamber music is arguable. In any case, there are none of those annoying intonational tweaks found in mannered period performances.
Made at St. Peter's Church in Evercreech, England, the quartet is spread across a generous soundstage in a warm, enriching venue. The string tone is superb with lifelike highs, a rich midrange, and articulate lows. Romantic chamber music enthusiasts looking for something off the beaten path, as well as audiophiles will relish this disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170626)
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