CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 JULY 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.
Ben-Haim: Sym 2, Conc Grosso; Yinon/HanNDR RP [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
It's been three years since this composer last appeared in our pages (see 14 May 2014), and by way of reminder, he was born Paul Frankenburg in Germany (1897), where he held a number of important conducting posts. These included working as an assistant to Bruno Walter (1876-1962; see 30 September 2016) and Hans Knappertsbusch (1888-1965).
But in 1933 with the rise of Nazism, he fled to the British Mandate of Palestine (1923-48). Difficulties getting employment there necessitated changing his name to Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984; last name pronounced "Hi-em"), as he's commonly known today.
Having given us the first of his two symphonies (see 19 December 2011), the adventurous CPO folks now turn to the second. It's coupled with his earlier Concerto Grosso, which is a modern day take on that baroque form. These are the only recordings of either piece currently available on disc.
The concerto of 1931 dates from his "Frankenburg" years. It followed some eighty lieder as well as a couple of noteworthy chamber works (see 14 May 2014), and was his first orchestral effort (1931).
In three movements, the initial one marked "Overture" [T-5] opens with a timpani-reinforced, chorale-like idea (TC) [00:00] of Hindemith (1895-1963) persuasion. This soon becomes the subject of a fugal episode [03:02], which bridges into an antic development [04:16]. The latter is succeeded by a dramatic recap [06:57], where TC takes on big tune proportions to end the movement triumphantly.
The ternary form "Aria" [T-6] begins with a deceptively ominous drumbeat [00:00] soon overlaid by a wind-introduced, impressionistic idea, smacking of Debussy (1862-1918) [00:10]. This undergoes a dramatic exploration [01:56], and then an extended, modified version of the opening measures [05:55] closes the movement like it began.
In conclusion there's "Chaconne", which is a passacaglia [T-7]. It recalls the final movement of Brahms (1833-1897) last symphony (No. 4, 1884-5), and starts with an angular, chugging main subject (AC) [00:01]. AC repeats some twenty times, each accompanied by a different version of itself. These range from heroic [01:05] to dreamy [02:25], pelagic [04:07], martial [06:17] and cantering [08:32]. Then AC makes a victorious return [09:16] astride references to TC (see above), ending the concerto triumphantly.
Moving ahead fifteen years, we get the symphony completed during the last months of 1945. The title page bears the name "P. Ben-Haim", and unlike its dark World War II (1939-45) predecessor (1939-40; see 19 December 2011), this is more hopeful, presumably anticipating better times ahead.
In the usual four movements, the first [T-1] is at heart a theme and variations that begins with an innocent pastoral idea (IP) [00:02]. It's the basis for several episodes of varying mood, which range from rustic [01:28] to whimsical [03:09], Eastern sounding [05:08] and courageous [07:02]. Then an avian one [10:01] transitions into nostalgic reminders of IP [11:37], concluding the movement tranquilly.
Next there's a scherzo [T-2] with antic, percussion-laced outer sections, surrounding a cantankerous trio [03:24-08:41]. After that it's on to a heartrending slow movement [T-3], which the album notes say reflects terrible reports then reaching Palestine about Holocaust victims -- the composer's sister was among them!
The finale [T-4] gets off to a stormy, lightning-and-thunder start [00:00] with a lowering motif played by the brass (LM) [00:02]. Then there's a seemingly Jewish Hora dance tune (JH) [01:05] that cavorts about. It's interrupted by a related ominous four-note riff (OF) [02:07], bringing to mind the fate motif in that timeless Beethoven (1770-1827) symphony (No. 5, 1807-8).
OF starts a spirited lengthy development of the foregoing ideas with some explosive outbursts. These subside into the return of JH [05:04] with what sound like a couple of subdued references to that patriotic British song Rule, Britannia! (1740) [05:59].
After that the development continues, and becomes increasingly frenzied with frequent OF reminders. It builds to a big tune version of that initial IP theme [08:50], which suddenly quits with an anticipatory, hanging forte cord [09:10] followed by a dramatic pause. Then timpani-accented, ursine bassoon passages initiate a final section amalgamating all of the foregoing. This brings the symphony to a flamboyant finish.
As on CPO's previous Ben-Haim disc (see 19 December 2011) Israel Yinon (1956-2015) gets stirring performances from the North German Radio (NDR) Philharmonic Hannover. No conductor has done more to resurrect undeservedly neglected 19th-20th century symphonic and operatic repertoire, particularly by composers, who were victims of the Holocaust. His sudden death while on the podium in late January, 2015 was a great shock and loss to the music world.
Like the recordings on CPO’s earlier CD, these were a coproduction with NDR made at their large studio in Hannover. Oddly enough they were done two years before those on the previous disc, which makes one wonder what delayed their appearance.
Maybe like fine wine, they improved with age! Moreover, the sonic image projected here is more consistent with warmer highs and a better focused midrange in the same enriching venue. Additionally, the lows, which again go down to rock bottom with plenty of bass drum action, seem cleaner. Audiophiles are in for a real treat.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170731)
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Jongen: Vc Conc, Poèmes Nos. 1 & 2 (vc & orch); Demarquette/Arming/RLiège PO [MusEnWal]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Not too long ago we told you about four orchestral works by Belgian composer Joseph Jongen (1873-1953; see 30 April 2015), and now here are three more equally desirable ones. Featuring the cello, they include his sole concerto and two poems for that instrument. The renditions on this new Musique En Wallonie release are currently the only ones readily available on disc.
The French government instituted their prestigious Prix de Rome in 1663 as a reward for promising art students, and then extended it to composers in 1803. Following suit in 1841, Belgium’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, came up with a similarly oriented one. Known in that city’s official language of Dutch as the Prijs van Rome, Joseph would win it some fifty-five years later (1897).
In those days, this was cause for a great celebration! And when he returned to his hometown of Liège, a large crowd made up of members from some eighty music societies greeted him at the train station. They then escorted him to the city center, where he was feted and cheered by thousands.
All this public attention must have been very gratifying, but more importantly he got a generous four-year stipend to study in Germany, France and Italy. Consequently, he journeyed to Berlin in 1898, where he'd spend most of his time except for a few weeks in Munich around the turn of the century.
The year 1902 saw him return home until the outbreak of World War I (1914-8), which resulted in his moving to England. But when peace was restored, he went back to his native land, where he spent the rest of his life.
During his years in Germany, be composed the earlier poem (1899) and concerto (1900), which is in three-movements simply marked "Premier" ("First"), "Deuxième" ("Second") and "Troisième" ("Third"). Structurally "Premier" is of the composer's own design, and might best be described as a rondoesque theme with some half-dozen transformations. Although it was too progressive for critics of his day, in retrospect it's a romantic masterpiece.
The opening [T-1] has the orchestra playing a soaring, rhythmically angular main subject (SA) [00:02], bringing to mind Richard Strauss' more heroic moments (1864-1949). Then the cellist makes a dramatic entrance repeating SA [01:16], and goes on to deliver a rhapsodic version of it [01:58]. This is followed by a jaunty treatment that becomes quite excited, and curiously enough smacks of Edward Elgar (1857-1934) [03:08].
After that, soloist plus tutti repeat SA [04:23], which gives way to a couple of pastoral reworkings [04:40 & 05:38]. These are succeeded by a melancholy offering [06:29] that turns increasingly heroic [08:08], brings back SA [09:25], and bridges into a subdued afterthought [10:45]. This builds with some exciting, virtuosic passages [12:14] into a brass-enhanced, forte flourish [12:38], ending the movement peremptorily.
The next one [T-2] is a heartfelt, ternary form creation, anticipating those sinuous stretches in the composer's ever popular Symphonie concertante for organ and orchestra (1926, see 26 March 2010). Its wistful outer sections feature a languid, sighing idea (LS) [00:02], and bracket a buoyant, pizzicato-woodwind-spiced, central episode [04:23-07:07], having an LS-related, smiling countermelody [04:48].
"Troisième" [T-3] brings this delightful work to a close, and begins with shimmering strings [00:01]. They're followed by nervous orchestral outbursts interspersed with unsupported passages for the cello. It plays a pervasive, leaping, four-note riff [beginning at 00:14] that's the first part of a commanding motif (LC), and then launches into an extended statement of LC [01:39]. This is picked up by the orchestra [02:31], and becomes a dramatic, flowing development with several lovely outcroppings of related ideas.
After that the soloist makes a cadenza-like return playing LC [07:26], which triggers a spirited recap having hints of "Premier" and "Deuxième" themes. Then a vibrant coda [09:17] with bravura cello and excited tutti passages concludes the concerto exuberantly.
The earlier Poème [T-4] of 1899 follows in the footsteps of shorter works for violin and orchestra by contemporaries of Joseph. These include his compatriot Eugene Ysaÿe's (1858-1951) Poème élégiaque (1893-1903; see 23 February 2015). And then there’s the enduring 1896 Poème of Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), who was in the circle of composers surrounding Liège-born, Paris-based "Papa Franck" (1822-1890).
Joseph's is an oboe-spiced, aria-like creation, which starts with a weeping preface [00:01]. This is followed by the soloist playing a poignant yearning melody (PY) [01:26], and an expansive ascending idea (EA) [02:29]. The latter is then explored, and appears along with PY in several guises. The last of these [07:04] closes the work in the same spirit it began.
Filling out this disc there's the later 1916 Poème [T-5] written during the composer's years in England (see above). This starts with an organ-like orchestra chord, recalling Joseph's magnificent solo music for that instrument (see 13 August 2008). Then the cello intones an extended, introspective (EI) subject [00:10], which is followed by five, linked contemplative episodes. The first four are anxious [01:37], caressing [03:29], expectant [06:18] and joyful [08:57]. On the other hand, the last is a pious offering [10:23] that ends the work reverently.
This release sees the return of French cellist Henri Demarquette (see 9 April 2014), and once again he delivers fervent renditions of more rarely heard romantic works. The Royal Liège Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO) under their Music Director, Austrian conductor Christian Arming, provide outstanding support. Their attention to phrasing and dynamics brings out all the subtleties of Jongen's fluidic music.
Made at Philharmonic Hall in Liège, the recordings present a wide, deep soundstage in spacious surroundings. There's just the right amount of reverberation to enrich this romantic fare without blurring it. And Monsieur Demarquette is richly captured, as well as ideally balanced against the RLPO.
The remarkably lifelike orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasing highs and a realistic midrange. As for the bass, Jongen's use of conventional forces precludes any seismic lows, but what's here is clean with no boominess in the cello and other lower strings. All in all, this disc will appeal to those liking romantic music, as well as any audiophiles among them, who prefer a wetter sound.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170730)
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Nápravník: Cpte Pno Trios (2), Mélancolie (Op. 48, No. 3, arr pno trio); Spyros Pno Trio [MD&G (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Now known as the Spyros Piano trio, the artists who gave us that award winning release of works by Luise Adolpha Le Beau (1850-1927, see 23 February 2015), follow up with another MD&G hybrid disc, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), devoted to more little-known late romantic chamber music. This time it’s by Czech-trained, Russian emigrant composer Eduard Nápravník (1839-1916), who was born in a small village some 80 miles east of Prague, and studied music in that great city.
Eduard first established himself as a talented conductor, who had a number of successful posts, starting with the Frankfurt Opera. He then moved to Russia in 1861, and 1869 saw him succeed Konstantin Liadov (1820-1868), father of Anatole (1855-1914), as chief conductor of the Imperial Russian Opera housed in the Mariinsky Theater, St. Petersburg.
He'd hold that position until 1914, when ill health forced his retirement, and unfortunately soon led to his demise. During his tenure, he conducted a number of memorable Russian opera premieres. Among them were such greats as Mussorgsky's (1839-1881) Boris Godunov (1868-73), as well as three by his friend Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), including The Maid of Orleans (1878-9, see 12 July 2013), which is dedicated to him.
Nápravník was also writing music all this time, and would leave a substantial body of works across all genres. These include four operas, four symphonies, and a number of chamber works, three of which appear on this release. They're the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
His two piano trios featured here are both four-movement works. The first dates from 1876, and begins with an animated sonata-rondo allegro [T-1], having an initial short-short-long rhythmic riff (SL) [00:00] that hints at a Slavic-sounding, angular theme (SA), which follows immediately [00:06]. SL and SA will pervade the movement, and are picked up by the strings, explored, and followed by a related songlike countermelody (RS) [01:52].
SA and RS then introduce and underlie each of five developmental passages, which are sequentially Hopak-like [02:56], skittish [05:05], contrapuntal [06:28], scherzoesque [10:11], and anguished [11:33]. The last concludes with virtuosic flourishes that end the movement pragmatically.
The next one [T-2] is based on a folksy dance ditty [00:03], that's soon overlaid with a sighing melody [02:09]. The two undergo some developmental transformations, and the music closes with a subdued postscript [06:15]. Then it's scherzo time [T-3], and we get a flighty section owing a debt to Mendelssohn (1809-1847), which alternates with dainty trio ones [02:02-02:31 & 04:58-06:22].
Finally, confirming the composer's Russian affiliations, there's "Alla Russe" [T-4] that's structurally similar to the preceding movement. It begins with another animated dance that's very Slavic-sounding (AS) [00:00], which transitions into a related sorrowful idea [02:04]. The two then go back-and-forth with rondo regularity, and AS has the last say [09:04], bringing the trio to a frenetic conclusion.
After all that excitement it's time for a respite with Mélancolie [T-5], which originally appeared as the third of four piano pieces (Op. 48, c. 1883; currently unavailable on disc). Eduard also arranged it for string orchestra (c. 1887; currently unavailable on disc), and what we have here is a piano trio version courtesy of Spyros and Ukrainian conductor Myroslav Krill.
In keeping with the title, it's a sad Russian Soul offering, and was dedicated by Nápravník to his compatriot Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915, see 31 December 2016). Based on a sorrowful theme [00:00], there's only a brief moment of hope [01:03-02:20] before it ends in total despair.
Moving ahead almost fifteen years, this enterprising release closes with Eduard's second piano trio of 1897. The opening sonata form allegro [T-6] opens with a soaring, euphoric theme (SE) [00:00]. This is examined, and succeeded by a related rhapsodic one [01:41] with some afterthoughts. Then SE introduces a spirited development [03:12], where both ideas appear in different guises. After that an SE-initiated recapitulation [06:28] with a vivacious coda [09:27] ends the movement emphatically.
Next there's a scherzo [T-7] with strumming, chirpy outer sections around a hymnlike trio (HT) [01:24-03:12]. It's followed by "Elegie" [T-8], which is in the same key as Mélancolie above, and also of doleful disposition. In A-B-A form, it has distraught "A's" surrounding a tad more optimistic "B" [01:47-03:28].
The finale [T-9] opens with a binary idea (BI) that's initially jumpy [00:00] and then questioning [00:44]. It's followed by a singing melody [01:18], and then BI makes rondo-like reappearances triggering a terse development [02:30], and frenzied recap [05:41]. The latter concludes the trio with dramatic bravura touches.
As with the Le Beau release mentioned at the outset, the Spyros artists (violinist Bartek Niziol, cellist Denis Severin and pianist Tatiana Korsunskaya), give us magnificent renditions of these esoteric chamber works. Once again, they impart that little extra something that turns what in lesser hands might be ordinary fare, into a rewarding listening experience. Nápravník couldn't be better represented!
In past reviews we've commented about the superb sound on MD&G discs (see 31 August 2016), and this one's no exception. On that note, the recordings were made by the identical production staff, and at the same location as the Le Beau (the Concert Hall in Marienmünster Abbey, Germany). The two stereo modes project compact sonic images in comfortably reverberant surroundings. The multichannel one gives the music additional breathing space, and will appeal to those liking a more open sound.
The instrumental balance is good throughout with the strings pleasingly bright, particularly on the CD track. As for the piano, it's superbly captured with just the right amount of percussive bite in all three playing modes.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170729)
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Pizzetti: Sym in A, Harp Conc; Bassani/Iorio/RAINa SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
The album notes for this new Naxos release read like a brief history of World War II (1939-45), and include some interesting facts about Italian composer Ildebrando Pizzetti's (1880-1968; see 13 July 2009) only symphony appearing here. It was written in response to some 1939 commissions by the Japanese government for Western works. These were to be played in association with a celebration honoring that country's legendary first emperor Jimmu (711-585 BC), who reigned from 660 to 585 BC.
Incidentally, there were four other submissions by British, French, German and Hungarian composers, namely Benjamin Britten's (1913-1976) Sinfonia da Requiem (1940), Jacques Ibert's (1890-1962) Overture de fête (Festival Overture, 1940), Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Japanische Festmusik (Japanese Festival Music, 1940), and Sándor Veress' (1907-1992) Prima Sinfonia (Sinfonia No. 1, 1940; currently unavailable on disc). The Britten was ultimately rejected for political as well as a couple of other reasons (see the album notes).
Pizzetti's symphony is coupled here with his later Harp Concerto, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc. It lasts almost forty-five minutes, and has four movements. The first [T-1] is in modified sonata form, and opens "teso" ("tautly") with a somber modal motif (SM) [00:01] that will permeate the entire work.
SM is then contemplated, and followed by a second more fervent subject (SF) [01:52]. The latter inspires a heroic episode [02:24] succeeded by additional subdued thoughts about SM [03:39], and an emotional development [04:28] involving both ideas.
Then SM announces a recap [09:17] that becomes the subject of a triumphant bridge [10:25], leading to the return of SF [11:26]. The latter powers an excited episode with a drum roll [12:43], which transitions into a wistful coda based on SM. This closes abruptly with some snappish passages [14:14] that end the movement decisively.
The next one marked andante [T-2] is a moving introspection of an SM-SF-derived melody (MF) [00:13]. It begins with a peaceful MF-based cantilena that’s increasingly interrupted by chromatic excursions. The movement then closes with subdued reminders of its opening measures.
We get a complete change of pace with "Rapido" [T-3], which is essentially a scherzo. This is an effervescent frolic, which first hints [00:32] at a Gallic-sounding ditty (GS) that soon appears [00:58]. GS underlies a couple of rambunctious outbursts [02:25 & 05:17], and then the music dissipates [05:46] with GS vaporizing heavenwards.
The last "Movimento di Marcia" ("March Movement") [T-4] has an ominous introduction [00:00] with persistent drum beats, wailing strings, and plaintive winds playing a despondent SM [00:15]. Then after a brief break we get a domineering, SM-powered march (DM) [01:35] with brash, bellicose flourishes. DM seemingly reflects the war raging in Europe when Pizzetti wrote this.
There are occasional sanguine, SM-tinged moments, but DM continues its inexorable conquest, overwhelming peaceful entreaties by SM [03:43-05:56]. Having crushed all opposition, DM fades, and is followed by a dramatic pause. Then we get a moving melancholy epilogue [11:37], which ends things presumably with hopes for world peace and better days ahead.
A serious rather than celebratory work, it's a wonder Pizzetti's symphony didn't suffer the same fate as Sinfonia da Requiem (see above). Maybe the Japanese authorities were willing to overlook its dark aspects, considering the country of origin was also allied with Nazi Germany.
Ildebrando began writing his Harp Concerto during the summer of 1958, while on vacation at his retreat in Northern Italy's scenic Dolomite Mountains. Completed in early 1960 it’s a lighter, happier piece scored for a moderately sized orchestra.
In three movements, the initial ones are both marked andante. The first of these [T-5] starts with a heroic angular theme (HA) for the tutti [00:00] succeeded by a related engaging one played by the soloist [00:11]. Both undergo some imaginative transformations that at one point sound somewhat Eastern [01:38].
After that we get a variant of HA [02:48], smacking of Ravel's (1875-1937) Introduction and Allegro... (1905). This introduces a discursive episode, which becomes rather martial [05:32] with virtuosic moments for the soloist that include a curt cadenza [06:37-07:00]. The latter leads to a recap of HA in the orchestra [07:09] with caressing harp work. Then the movement closes with some radiant passages [08:10] and a perfunctory plunk.
The next andante [T-6] begins with the soloist playing a lovely lithe melody (LL), the latter part of which [00:36] is picked up on by tutti [00:57]. LL is food for a dramatic development [01:25], where it's passed back and forth between harp and orchestra. Then passages recalling LL [04:57] end the movement with a warm glow.
This delightful work concludes with an allegro [T-7] that gets off to a spirited orchestral start with a rhythmically catchy, LL-related, angular idea (LA) [00:00]. Ere long, the soloist joins in [00:14], and LA is tossed about in rondo fashion, after which we get a delicate cantilena (DC) [01:31].
DC is explored and interspersed with references to LA that soon makes a militant, kettle-drum-reinforced return on the harp [04:29]. Then the tutti come crashing back in [04:52], giving way to brass fanfares [05:07]. They herald a final LA-DC-fueled cadenza [05:20-06:01], after which the concerto ends with bombastic references to LA.
The Italian Radio and Television (RAI) National Symphony Orchestra (RAINSO) under English conductor Damian Iorio gives a magnificent performance of the symphony, and is joined by RAINSO’s principal harpist Margherita Bassani for the concerto. She delivers a superb account of it, which is all the more impressive for the sensitive, totally committed support provided by Maestro Iorio and this outstanding orchestra.
The recordings were a coproduction with RAI done two years ago at their Arturo Toscanini Auditorium, Turin, Italy. They project a hefty sonic image in accommodating, reverberant surroundings. The overall sound is respectable, with the instrumental solos in the symphony successfully highlighted.
As for the concerto, Signora Bassani takes center stage where her harp is convincingly captured, and well balanced against the tutti. The instrumental timbre is generally pleasing with somewhat steely highs, a musical midrange, and clean bass. One last note, those with sound systems that go down to rock bottom may notice a momentary low tremor of undetermined origin at one point in the symphony [T-3, 03:13].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170728)
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Saint-Saëns: Proserpine (cpte opera); Soloists/Schirmer/FlemR C/MunR O [Edic Sing (CD-Bk)]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs-Book)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) first collaborated with French librettist Louis Gallet (1835-1898) on the delightful, one-act comic opera La princesse jaune (The Yellow Princess, 1872; see 31 July 2012). Then they combined forces for Étienne Marcel (1879; not currently available), and Proserpine (1886-7), which is on this new Ediciones Singulares release, and the only recording of it currently available on disc.
Gallet's libretto is a reworking of French writer Auguste Vacquerie's (1819-1895) eponymous play of 1838. The resultant four-act lyric drama has a story line, which the composer summarized as “two young people toy with a woman's heart, and she dies of it”. Incidentally, the second version of this stage work dating from 1899 is presented here. The accompanying album book includes a complete French-English libretto, plot synopses, and a patchwork prolixity of peripheral commentary.
The setting is sixteenth century Italy, with the first and last acts taking place in Florence. Accordingly, Saint-Saëns visited that historical city in July 1886 to get a feeling for the cultural surroundings back then.
The opera opens with a brief prelude [D-1, T-1], which starts with a sinuous dissembling motif (SD) [00:01], representing the courtesan Proserpine, who's the heroine of this stage work. Then the music becomes increasingly agitated.
After a couple of forte chords, the curtain goes up to scurrying passages [D-1, T-2], revealing the gardens of her Florentine palazzo at sunset. A group of fashionably dressed people are milling about, who include the noblemen Orlando, Filippo and Ercole. We learn from them she's a real promiscuous femme fatale.
We also find out that for the last month she's been a recluse, and kept her doors closed to everyone. Now she’s invited all of the assembled to a feast, which has everyone wondering why. Then we hear SD [02:19] and Proserpine enters, commenting that Sabatino, who's a gentleman acquaintance with a past history of being more than just a good friend, is not there. This is cause for more banter between Orlando and Ercole [D-1, T-3], after which she again notes Sabatino's absence.
Next, all move off stage into the gardens, and Sabatino appears along with his friend Lord Renzo, who's the brother of his bride-to-be, Angiola. They have a dramatic exchange [D-1, T-4], revealing Sabatino has a reputation as a great womanizer, and was once greatly taken with Proserpine. Consequently, Renzo wants proof of his companion's undying love for his sister.
In some further emotional repartee [D-1, T-5] Sabatino agrees to his friend's demand that he tell Proserpine their relationship is finished. He then launches into a tuneful aria about his devotion for Angiola [00:39]. After that Proserpine returns with her former entourage, and in an aside expresses delight at seeing Sabatino [D-1, T-6]. However, she coquettishly affects not noticing him, but extends friendly greetings to Renzo.
She remarks about Sabatino's icy look, which annoys her, and orders her guests inside the palazzo to take their seats for a concert she's arranged. This starts with a charming pavane [D-1, T-7], during which Sabatino and Renzo move off stage.
After that Proserpine sings a nostalgic passage [D-1, T-8], and Sebatino reappears, giving rise to an extended scene between them [D-1, T-9]. It's set to some of the opera's most emotional music, and brings to mind the composer's operatic masterpiece Samson and Delilah (1877, see 31 July 2012). Then there's some flowery bickering, leading to an unpleasant parting, and Renzo returns to learn Sabatino’s done what his brother-in-law-to-be asked.
Next, we get a despairing pronouncement from Proserpine [D-1, T-10]. It's followed by the entrance of her steward, Gil, along with two servants and a stranger, whose hands are tied. He's the notorious Gypsy villain Squarocca, who's been caught stealing her jewels. Suffice it to say the scheming Proserpine sees how she can use Squarocca to her own advantage, and in an amusing number [D-1, T-11], makes him her escort for the evening.
All this somewhat anticipates frivolous moments in Verdi's (1813-1901) Falstaff (1893), as does the opening of the rousing finale. This starts [D-1, T12] after the concert ends with all of the guests coming back on stage.
Here Proserpine learns Sabatino is planning to wed Angiola, who's staying in a convent. The following passages have ominous intimations of the jealous courtesan using Squarocca to prevent their marriage. She then begins the act's final moments with the manic words "Dépensons largement la vie" ("Let us spend our lives with extravagance") set to a drop-dead melody [03:17], and the guests join in, bringing this act to a deceptively joyous close.
A sunlit day at Angiola's convent in Turin is the setting for the second, which begins with a pious, hushed orchestral prelude [D-1, T-13], having an innocent, tuneful melody (IT) [00:12] presumably representing her. As the curtain goes up we hear a lovely Ave Maria [01:56] set to a reverent accompaniment that includes organ, sung by the novices and nuns along with Angiola in the nearby chapel. Then they emerge to instrumental passages [03:16] recalling the prelude.
Next there's a delightful number [D-1, T-14], where her companions sing of her husband-to-be, and Angiola ponders whether Renzo will ever let her marry. The sound of a church bell [02:57] gives this added color, and then he suddenly appears [D-1, T-15]. In a cheery exchange, he says she no longer has to remain a recluse as he's brought a former suitor for her to marry. He also says the man in question was a sinner, who through her sovereign grace has triumphed over his past weaknesses.
Sabatino then enters [D-1, T-16], and sings an amorous aria, professing she's the girl of his dreams and hope for the future. Then there’s an exchange between the three, and he places an engagement ring on her finger to a tender orchestral interlude [03:29]. This is succeeded by a moving trio [D-1, T-17], anticipating the upcoming nuptials, which we learn will take place three days later at his palazzo in Florence.
Then that church bell tolls again [02:39], and Angiola explains it's calling the local poor folk for their daily alms. This initiates the act's last scene, which begins liltingly [D-1, T-18] with the entrance of novices, nuns and servants carrying provisions for the needy. They put them on a stone table, and proceed to set up a grille, after which the people come in. And lo and behold, the last of them is Squarocca dressed in humble attire! As it turns out, he's been sent by Proserpine to observe Angiola, and report back about her.
All this leads to a gorgeous closing ensemble number with an underlying, IT-related melody that's one of the composer's finest [01:12]. As the poor folk feast, there are some final words from Renzo and the happy couple, as well as Squarocca, who's been totally captivated by Angiola's beauty and demeanor. Consequently, he sees her as a real threat to any future liaison between Proserpine and Sabatino. But despite hints of trouble ahead, Act II closes tranquilly.
Then we get a complete change of pace with the third, which takes place on a moonlit night at a Gypsy camp in the mountains between Turin and Florence. As the curtain goes up the zingari do a sprightly tarantella [D-2, T-1], and sing about the arrival of their comrade Sqaurocca, whom they thought had been hanged [D-2, T-2]. He next asks them to help him further Proserpine's schemes, and they answer with their willingness to do so regardless of any consequences.
After that she suddenly appears in Gypsy costume, and the two of them launch into a dramatic duet [D-2, T-3] with overtones of Wagner (1813-1883). In it Squarocca tells her of Angiola's grace and radiant beauty, which enrages Proserpine, who interrupts, furthering her evil schemes.
We learn Renzo and his sister left Turin by coach that morning with a driver, who's a friend of our Gypsy ne'er-do-well. He's taking them over a rough road in a nearby ravine that Squarocco's accomplices will surround. Then he’ll fake an accident, whereupon they'll kidnap the passengers.
A sad aria for Proserpine [D-2, T-4] follows where she laments Sabatino's not loving her. In it she notes her name is the same name as the Roman goddess of the underworld (Persephone in Greek mythology), and compares her sorrow over his disinterest in her to the darkness of that deity's realm.
Then Squarocco returns telling her the coach has stopped as planned, and he'll bring Angiola to her. That's followed by his launching into a titillating drinking song [D-2, T-5], after which Renzo enters with Angiola. Proserpine notes her beauty [D-2, T-6], and in a duplicitous number Squarocco introduces Proserpine as his sister, claiming she’s a fortune teller. In the meantime, Renzo has asked his help in repairing the coach, and the two leave Angiola with Proserpine, presumably to have her palm read.
This leads to the act's highly dramatic ending [D-2, T-7], which is riddled with references to SD [beginning at 01:03] (see above), and an emotional scene between the two women. In it Angiola is told her upcoming marriage is cursed, and she must go back to the convent. But she senses Proserpine is a fake, and a wild exchange ensues between them, where Angiola screams for help from Renzo.
However, her cries bring Squarocco scurrying back! Proserpine tells him to hold her until the next day, and then storms off. After that agitated orchestral passages accompany the return of Renzo with some soldiers. They seize Squarocco, and Angiola falls into her brother's arms as the third act curtain comes down.
The fourth and final one begins with an orchestral entre'acte [D-2, T-8], which gets off to a galloping start. It has a rhythmic urgency that brings to mind moments in Massenet's (1842-1912) ballet music for his opera Le Cid (1885, see 14 July 2014), and suggests Proserpine rushing back to Florence. Then the music becomes pensive with melancholy reminders of SD [01:42]. However, the opening measures return, ending this in the same spirit it began.
Tranquil nocturnal passages [D-2, T-9] introduce the opening scene, where it's evening time in Sabatino's apartments. He sings a flowery aria [00:48] with forestal metaphors about his having finally found his true love.
Then Proserpine suddenly enters [D-2, T-10], which leads to an emotionally fraught encounter, where there are intimations of past hanky-panky between them. She throws herself at his feet, but he rejects her [D-2, T-11], at which point he hears Angiola's carriage approaching, and asks that she leave.
Sabatino rushes out to meet his bride-to-be, and Proserpine hides behind the draperies just before he returns with his prospective mate [00:41]. Their entrance marks the beginning of the closing scene, which as might be expected is the stage work's high point, and starts with a passionate exchange for the two [00:47].
There are increasingly sinister asides from the concealed courtesan, who when she can no longer stand their avowals of love, rushes forward with a stiletto [04:10] to kill Angiola. But Sabatino restrains her [04:12], and the crazed Proserpine stabs herself [04:40], saying she's filled with somber joy that death will numb her sorrowful heart [04:56]. With closing reminders of SD [05:02], she then expires wishing them happiness [05:30], and the opera ends with an impressive dramatic orchestral flourish [05:34].
Sopranos Veronique Gens (Proserpine), Marie-Adeline Henry (Angiola), tenors Frédéric Antoun (Sabatino), Mathias Vidal (Orlando), Artavazd Sargsyan (Felippo & Gil), baritone Andrew Foster-Williams (Squarocca), along with basses Jean Teitgen (Renzo) and Philippe-Nicolas Martin (Ercole), are in fine voice. They deliver dramatic, convincing performances of their respective roles, and on that note, Foster-Williams adds a humorous touch of Cowardly Lion vibrato to his rendition of Squarocca.
All receive superb support from the Flemish Radio Choir and Munich Radio Orchestra under German conductor Ulf Schirmer. As with Joseph Beer's (1908-1987) Polnische Hochzeit (A Polish Wedding, 1937; see 31 December 2016), we have him to thank for giving us another operatic find that's lain dormant far too long.
Like that album, this was coproduced with Bavarian Radio (BR) last year in Munich at the Prince Regent Theater (Prinzregententheater), which was originally built to house Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) imposing stage works. But unlike the Beer, this recording doesn't seem to have been taken from a live performance, and there's no extraneous audience or stage action noise. The resultant sonic image is wide and in an enriching venue.
The soloists, chorus and orchestra are convincingly captured and balanced against one another; however, there is an upper edge to the voices. Had this been a hybrid release, that would probably have been less pronounced on the SACD tracks.
The orchestral timbre is pleasing with better sounding highs, a pleasant midrange, and low clean bass. In closing, if you like this opera you might also want to try Saint-Saëns' three-act, lyric tragedy Les barbares (The Barbarians, 1901) on an earlier Ediciones Singulares (release 1017).
Finally, a word of caution about the album packaging. The CD envelopes are glued to the inside of each book cover, and be careful not to get adhesive on their playing surfaces as it will cause mistracking.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170727)
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