CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 SEPTEMBER 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.
Andriessen, H.: Orch Wks V4 (Sym 4, Libertas venit Rhap, Capriccio, Canzone); Porcelijn/Neth SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Back in 2013 CPO began releasing CDs introducing us to the orchestral music of Dutch composer Hendrik Andriessen (1892-1981; see 20 March 2013 and 31 July 2015). Those discs included his first three symphonies, and now here's another with his fourth and last effort in that genre, plus three shorter orchestral works. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The first [T-1] of the fourth symphony's (1954) three movements begins with a fatalistic, twelve-tone melody (FT) [00:01] that will pervade the entire work. However, FT is used only to add an air of mystery as the music remains within tonal bounds.
A pensive exploration of FT is followed by a spirited, carefully crafted development [02:02] that may bring Ravel (1875-1937) and Roussel (1869-1937) to mind. This alternates with subdued tragic episodes, followed by a dramatic drum roll. The latter introduces an FT-based vivacious coda that ends the movement with a final thunderous bash on the bass drum.
The andante [T-2] has introspective outer sections that bring Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) to mind. They surround a perky trio [02:35-04:36], and close the movement with a feeling of sorrowful tranquility.
A rhythmically frenetic finale [T-3] is wrapped around a pastoral episode [02:31-04:11], and brings this immaculate work to an exciting conclusion. There are constant reminders of FT, and then the symphony ends with a tricky, forte, pause-and-effect passage.
The next selection is a rhapsody titled "Libertas venit" ("Freedom Comes", 1954) [T-4]. This celebrates the liberation of Brabant Province in southern Holland towards the end of World War II (1939-45). In four contiguous arches, the opening one is a dark, oppressive segment [00:01] signifying Nazi occupation. It's riddled with references to that old, foreboding chant known as the Dies Irae [beginning at 01:48].
Trumpets announce a faster march-like arch (FM) [04:57], presumably signifying the Allies bringing Nazi rule to an end. After that there's a doleful, restrained segment [07:12], which seemingly limns the sad aftermath of the war years. However, the music turns increasingly optimistic, giving rise to a fugato of hope [08:01], after which the rhapsody ends in an FM-colored, victorious episode [12:51].
Going back thirteen years to 1941 we get Hendrik's Capriccio [T-5]. This is a scherzoesque piece having several attractive ideas presented in alternating jocund and pensive passages with the former having the last say. Then we get another of those trick Andriessen endings.
The disc is filled out with an engaging miniature titled Canzone (1971) [T-6]. Here festive brass flourishes adorn a colorfully scored piece that ends this release with cinematic overtones.
As on previous volumes in this series (see 20 March 2013 and 31 July 2015), conductor David Porcelijn and the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra (NSO) make a strong case for these rarely heard works. Maestro Porcelijn gets enthusiastic, yet sensitive playing from the talented NSO musicians. His attention to detail brings out all the subtleties of Andriessen's scores. Let's hope they continue their fruitful collaboration, and bring us more unknown symphonic Dutch treats (see 7 November 2012).
The recordings were made in 2012-3, once again at the Music Center in Enschede, Netherlands. They project a consistently robust sonic image in a warm, moderately live acoustic. The overall instrumental timbre is pleasing with the many solo and small ensemble passages ideally highlighted. The highs are occasionally brittle, but the midrange is very musical, and bass end exceptionally clean. There's a touch of digital grain in massed upper violin passages.
Note in regard to the hbdirect.com product page referenced below that the album information seems accurate except for the inclusion of an incorrect cover photo.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170930)
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Bartók: Pno Qt; Dohnányi: Pno Qt; Kodály, Z.: Intrmzo for Stg Trio; Notos Qt [Sony (RCA)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Titled "Hungarian Treasures", this exceptional chamber music album has the only readily available recordings of two early piano quartets by Béla Bartók (1881-1945; see 31 August 2015), and Erno Dohnányi (1877-1960; see 30 June 2007) written around the turn of the nineteenth century. It's filled out with a shorter piece from around the same time by their compatriot Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967).
As it turns out the Bartók, dating from 1898, exists only in manuscript form, and disappeared shortly after it was last performed in 1964. But the Notos Quartet, managed to unearth it for this premiere recording.
A highly romantic, four-movement work, the beginning allegro [T-6] opens with an extended, flowing (EF) theme [00:00] that's out of Brahms (1833-1897) and Dvorák (1841-1904). EF fuels this rapturous movement, where the only hints of later Bartók are some forceful, rhythmically jagged passages [02:42, 07:29, 08:56].
Then we get a spirited scherzo [T-7] with Hungarian dancelike outer sections (HD) [beginning at 00:00] embracing a rueful trio (RT) [02:30-04:02]. An expressive adagio [T-8] follows, based on an RT reminiscent, longing melody [00:01] that along with sorrowful reminders of HD [02:48] characterize this heartfelt outpouring.
The thrilling final allegro [T-9] has outer passages based on a couple of engaging ideas, The first is a proud Hungarian tune (PH) [00:00], recalling those dance reconstructions by Brahms and Dvorák, while the other is a PH-related, imploring melody (PI) [01:23]. They surround a strutting segment [03:05-04:28], and give way to a manic coda [05:45], which recaps past ideas. It ends this piece of Baby Béla triumphantly, anticipating all those great pieces soon to come!
The Dohnányi Piano Quartet, which came seven years after Bartók (1898), finds Erno at his best. In four movements, the first sonata form allegro [T-1] features a sober yearning theme (SY) [00:00] succeeded by an SY-related, timid countersubject (ST) [02:16]. They're repeated, and hints of SY initiate an anguished development [06:04]. Then ST begins a recap [09:59], with a questioning SY-related coda [11:50] that ends the movement uneventfully.
A moving adagio [T-2] with a tearful segment [01:53-03:42] and vivacious scherzo [T-3] follow. The latter has bubbly sections on either side of a playful trio [01:19-02:54].
After that the quartet closes with a petulant, rondo-like allegro con brio [T-4]. This has a couple of capricious tunes that skitter about with dramatic pauses, and hints of past ideas. Then a final reference to SY [06:29] ushers in a coda that begins quietly. It becomes emotionally worked up, and ends the quartet in Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) fashion with virtuosic piano runs [07:25] accompanied by excited strings.
As an encore we get a charming, Intermezzo for string trio by Kodály [T-5]. While this beguiling little tidbit won't set the world on fire, there's a folkish quality about it that's most appealing.
The German, award-winning, up-and-coming Notos Quartet gives technically accomplished, rousing renditions of the Bartók and Dohnányi. Then pianist Antonia Köster goes to powder her nose, while violinist Sindri Lederer, violist Andrea Burger and cellist Philip Graham deliver a sensitive account of the Kodály.
A coproduction of Sony Music and Deutschlandradio, these recordings were made last year in a Berlin studio. They project an appropriately proportioned sonic image in a bright acoustic, with the instruments well placed and balanced. The piano is convincingly captured, and strings, lifelike. All in all, the sound should meet with audiophile approval.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170929)
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Curci, A.: Vn Concs 1 "Conc romantico", 2, 3, Suite Italiana… (vn & orch); Gulli/Capuana/ Studio O [First Hand]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Here are four sleepers by Italian violinist-composer Alberto Curci (1886-1973). Moreover, all three of these three-movement concertos as well as the suite for violin and orchestra were originally released on monaural LPs back in 1963-4. But as it turns out, they were studio, two-channel recordings, and thanks to First Hand Records they've been remastered, and are presented here for the first time on a single stereo CD.
Born in Naples, Alberto was a violin wunderkind, who would first study at home, and then in Berlin with the great Hungarian violinist-conductor-composer Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). A stunning international concert career followed, during which he composed a modest number of pieces featuring his instrument. You’ll find the violin work in the ones here embedded with Curci’s astounding technique. And that along with his gifts as a melodist well make up for any lack of overall originality.
The first concerto titled "Concerto romantico" was published in 1944, and probably written in the late 1930s. The initial allegro [T-1] opens with folksy orchestral flourishes, followed by the soloist playing passages that show Curci's command of the violin. It also has melodies that attest to his consummate abilities as a tunesmith. These are explored and then the movement ends definitively.
A tender romanza [T-2] follows immediately, where the soloist intones a cantilena-like melody that's passionately developed, and may bring Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's (1895-1968) violin concertos to mind (see 23 February 2015). Then the work ends with a sprightly finale [T-3] that's a catchy Neapolitan dance offset by a broader countermelody. These bring the work to a spirited conclusion along with reminders of past ideas.
Moving ahead some thirty years we get the second concerto, which was written when Alberto was touring Slavic countries in the early 1960s. Accordingly, it starts with an allegro [T-4] where the tutti first hint at an Eastern-flavored tune soon picked up, and filled out by the soloist (EF) [00:39]. This is the basis for an enlivening "Russian Rhapsody" with dazzling violin passages.
A closing episode with a virtuosically embellished big tune reminder of EF [05:38] bridges right into the melancholy andante [T-5], which is an attractive love song distantly related to EF. Then the concerto concludes with a Tzigane-tinged, rondo finale [T-6], that begins with the soloist tossing off a virtuosically embellished Gypsy dance tune. This appears in variety of colorful guises, and ends the work emblazoned with some fancy fiddling.
Curci's third effort in the genre (c. 1966) is more formally structured with minimal folk overtones, and recalls the works of such Belgian violin school composers as Eugčne Ysa˙e (1858-1931; see 23 February 2015). The first allegro [T-7] is a rigorous offering built on two contrasting ideas that are respectively antsy [00:10] and caressing [01:42]. These undergo a dramatic examination, and return to end the movement exuberantly.
The ingratiating andante [T-8] is a charming cantilena for violin and orchestra, which once again demonstrates what a superb melodist Alberto was. It couldn't be more different from the final allegro [T-9], which finds the composer at the height of his bravura violin-writing powers. Here a jaunty opening [00:00] theme that may bring Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) to mind is succeeded by a searching idea [01:05]. The two are juggled around a lengthy, demanding cadenza [04:10-05:57], and bring the concerto to a thrilling close.
Filling out the program there’s "Suite Italiana in stile antico" ("Italian Suite in Old Style", c. 1966) for violin and orchestra. Like a number of Respighi's (1879-1936) works, this is a delightful throwback to earlier days with folk associations.
The first of its five movements is a resolute allegro [T-10] recalling Baroque times. It’s succeeded by a larghetto pastorale [T-11] that's a tender shepherd's lullaby of Sicilian origin.
Then it's on to a dainty minuetto [T-12], and coy gavotte [T-13] with several engaging variations. After that there's an animated, fiddle-fireworks-embellished presto [T-14], bringing this enjoyable suite to a whimsical finish.
Our soloist is Franco Gulli (1926-2001), who was one of Italy's most outstanding violinists during the latter half of the twentieth century. He gives definitive accounts of these scores, and receives superb support from conductor Franco Capuana and an otherwise unidentified "Studio Orchestra".
The informative album notes go on to say this mystery performing group was for the most part made up of members from the renowned Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala. Be that as it may, their playing couldn't be better, and along with Signore Gulli they make a strong case for these rarely heard Curci works.
Done at the Basilica of Sant'Eufemia, Milan, Italy, these remastered recordings (see above) present a consistent, appropriately sized sonic image in warm surroundings. The soloist is well captured and balanced against the tutti. As for the orchestral timbre, it's pleasing, but those liking a bright high end, may find what’s here somewhat veiled. This may be due to the aging of what must have been analogue, ferric-oxide master tapes.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P170928)
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Mellits: Stg Qt 3 "Tapas", 4 "Prometheus" & 5 "Waníyetu"; Debussy Quartet [Evidence]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
"Better late than never" certainly applies to the first appearance in these pages of music by American composer Marc Mellits (b. 1966). Moreover, he's slipped under CLOFO radar until this recent captivating release on Evidence Classics of his last three string quartets. They’re the only readily available recordings of them currently on CD.
Born in Baltimore, Marc started piano lessons at age six, and would later study at the Eastman (1984-8) and Yale (1989-91) Schools of Music. He then went on to Cornell University (1991-6), after which he spent a summer at Tanglewood (1997). His past instructors have included Samuel Adler (b. 1928; see 27 August 2013), Christopher Rouse (b. 1949; see 15 January 2010), and Roberto Sierra (b. 1953; see 6 February 2014).
Mellits now lives in Chicago, and in accord with his extensive academic background, teaches there at the University of Illinois. But he's also a prolific composer, whose music is frequently performed throughout the US, Canada and Europe. While it shows minimalist influences, there's a rhythmic drive, vibrancy and lyrical quality, which preclude the monotony many associate with that school of music.
The composer tells us (see the informative album notes) he considers the string quartet the most intimate of musical ensembles, and an ideal medium for him to explore his ideas. He goes on to say he seeks ways to keep the instruments working together in "machine-like" (ML) fashion, while bringing out the lyrical and emotional aspects of his creations. He also acknowledges a propensity to work in smaller forms.
That’s reflected in the works here, which are made up of seven or eight miniature movements. These explore diverse sound worlds, but are related to one another somewhat along the lines of those in a Baroque suite.
The program begins with his third quartet subtitled "Tapas" (2008). Named after that classic assortment of Spanish appetizers, it’s in eight "tastings" simply marked "One" through "Eight".
An ML-powered "One" [T-1] propels the listener forward. Then there's a welcome respite with a skittish "Two" [T-2], and lullaby-like "Three" [T-3]. The latter is succeeded by a skittering, ML-spiced "Four" [T-4], bringing the quartet to the halfway point.
Subsequently we get an ostinato, pensive "Five" [T-5], which is the longest "Tapas" here, and a pizzicato plucky "Six" [T-6]. A strutting, ML-flavored "Seven" [T-7] is next, and then a sorrowful "Eight" [T-8] concludes the work elegiacally.
Mellits tells us each of the fourth quartet's (2011) seven brief movements are imaginings about fire. Accordingly, it’s named "Prometheus" after the Titan in Greek Mythology who stole that vital element from Mount Olympus, and gave it to mankind.
Apparently, the flickering first lento [T-9] represents a tiny glowing flame, while a swelling moderato [T-10] characterizes its growth. Then in an ML allegro e agressivo [T-11] it turns into a raging forest fire.
The flames die away in the next sorrowful adagio [T-12], leaving a scorched landscape, after which there's an insistent, consoling andantino adagio [T-13]. Seemingly this is nature renewing itself, and followed by a comforting tempo rubato [T-14] that the composer says is meant to represent a slow burning winter fireplace.
The work concludes with what Mellits calls an allegro groove (groovy allegro?) [T-15]. This is another ML-tinged creation, which in his own words represents "a funky ecstatic fire, completely unaware of the utter devastation it leaves in its path." It ends the work with the suddenness of a struck match.
Filling out this disc we get the fifth quartet (2015) entitled "Waníyetu", which is the Sioux Indian word for winter. Written during a bitter Chicago cold spell, each of its seven short movements reflect thoughts about same. The composer tells us the opening, detached "clear winter" [T-16] limns the quiet stillness of an early morning frozen landscape. Then an ML-accented "funk" [T-17], threateningly builds into a great snowstorm of notes.
The following "distant echos" [T-18] seems to picture a peaceful, white countryside, while "playful" [T-19] brings to mind children making snow angels. After there's a languid, "smooth" [T-20] offering, which the composer says represents the labored steps of those wading through heavy snow.
In conclusion, we get two ML-powered segments respectively marked "energetic eternal polar vortex" [T-21], and "aggressive" [T-22]. The first is a stormy, churning movement that sets the scene for a final blinding blizzard that ends the quartet perfunctorily.
Formed in 1990 by a group of students at the university in Lyon, France, the Debussy Quartet is one of today’s most highly regarded. Their technically accomplished, spirited performances of these Mellits' scores testifies to their adventurous choice of new repertoire, and increasing worldwide fame.
Done last year at Little Tribeca Studio in the northeast suburbs of Paris, the recordings are impressive, and present a wide soundstage in pleasant surroundings. There's no feeling of confinement sometimes associated with studios. In fact, the DQ as captured here frequently comes off sounding like more than four players, particularly in ML-related movements (see above).
The overall string tone is very convincing for a conventional CD, with the violins taking on an arresting aggressiveness in ML passages. Contemporary chamber music fans should definitely investigate this demonstration quality release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170927)
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Villa-Lobos: Syms 8, 9 & 11; Karabtchevsy/SăoPau SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
With over a thousand works across all genres to his credit, Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959; see 24 July 2008) was one of the most prolific composers who ever lived. His vast output and reputed aversion to established classical music forms probably explains why some find many of his pieces spur of the moment, rather loosey-goosey, folkloric fare. Apparently, the great Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) felt this way about his Brazilian colleague.
That said, some of Heitor's later efforts are more structured, and the three symphonies on this CD -- he wrote twelve -- are good cases in point. They're part of an ongoing cycle by Naxos and the Săo Paulo Symphony Orchestra (OSESP) under its director Isaac Karabtchevsky to editorially revise and record all of them. These are the only recordings of the versions presented here now available on disc.
All three premiered in America during the 1950s, and are each in four movements. The eighth of 1950 has an initial andante [T-1] that begins with shimmering strings and a six-note motif (SM) identical to the opening of Schubert's (1797-1828) Great Symphony (No. 9, D944, 1827). SM fathers a variety of inventive thematic offspring that are explored, and the movement ends with a single perfunctory chord.
The ternary lento [T-2] has peripheral segments built from a leisurely winding theme that surround a contrasting, sequential episode. Subsequently there's an allegretto [T-3], which is a scherzo, having antsy outer sections filled with fleeting fragmentary ideas and hints of SM. They bracket a more stately, lyrical idea intoned by the low strings [01:43], and end this movement unpretentiously.
Then we get a final allegro [T-4] with a simple tune that could almost be from a college football song. It rides over a colorful harmonic accompaniment, and brings the work to a brisk conclusion.
Moving ahead we get the ninth symphony of 1952, which was commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra, and premiered that same year under Eugene Ormandy. The first allegro [T-5] has a vivacious opening and closing built around several hard-charging, interlinked motifs. These surround a fearless fugato [01:51-02:39], and end the movement much like it began.
The adagio [T-6] starts with brooding low strings, and wisps of hope in the violins. All this becomes a choral-like outpouring that ebbs and flows, bringing the music to a peaceful conclusion.
Then we get a working scherzo [T-7] based on a variety of distantly related thoughts. These are for the most cheerful with a playfulness smacking of Dukas (1865-1935) and Ravel's (1875-1937) lighter moments. Are those a few chuckles we hear at the end?
Many will find the ebullient, closing allegro [T-8] the works' high point. It's a rondo-spirited undertaking that juxtaposes a giggly idea [00:00] with a songlike ditty [00:07]. This is laced with hints of past thoughts, and may at times remind you of more expansive passages in Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) symphonies. Then all these thematic chickens come home to roost in the exciting last measures of what's probably Heitor's most concise work in this genre.
The program closes with his eleventh symphony of 1955. This was commissioned to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and premiered on that occasion in "Beantown" under Charles Munch (1891-1968).
The initial, stream-of-consciousness allegro [T-9] has a surfeit of ideas in sections on either side of a tragic episode [02:08-05:55]. Then this movement is offset by a queasy, chromatic adagio [T-10], and curt, churlish scherzo [T-11] that owes something to Beethoven's (1770-1827) symphonies.
In closing we get a moody molto allegro [T-12] , which alternates manic, brass-decorated passages with doleful ones. And speaking of Beethoven, there are references in the latter to the shepherd's song that begins the last movement of his Pastoral Symphony (No. 6, Op. 68, 1808). Makes one wonder what Villa-Lobos might have had in mind!
As stated above, Maestro Karabtchevsky and the OSESP give us recently updated versions of all three symphonies. The playing is superb, and these musicians give virtuoso accounts of the many solos that surface throughout this rarely heard music.
Dating from 2015-6, the recordings were made at Sala Săo Paulo, Brazil, which before its conversion to a concert venue was the vast main hall of a railway station. The soundstage is accordingly immense, and in reverberant surroundings. This makes for a softly focused sonic image that should appeal to those liking a wetter, more enveloping sound.
Brilliantly scored, the instrumental timbre is characterized by titillating highs, a natural midrange and lean, clean bass. There are occasional touches of "digitalis" in the upper strings, but all things considered, this CD is demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y170926)
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