CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 DECEMBER 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.
Beliczay: Sym 1, Seren; Gál/BudaMÁV SO [Sterling]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Once again Stockholm-based Sterling Records unearths more buried symphonic treasure (see 30 September 2016) with this release devoted to music by romantic Hungarian composer Gyula Beliczay (aka Julius von Beliczay or Julius von Beliczy, 1835-1893). Born some fifty miles northeast of Budapest in Komárom along the Slovak Republic border, he'd first study piano there, and later in Bratislava.
The year 1851 saw him move to Vienna, where he continued his education in the fields of science as well as music. Having gotten a Master of Science and Engineering in 1857, Beliczay pursued a career with a Viennese railway company, while teaching and composing music on the side.
This led to his taking an important position with the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV) in Budapest, which involved extensive travels throughout Central Europe. Consequently he met many great musicians of the day, including Franz Liszt (1811-1886), Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894; see 6 October 2014).
After a highly remunerative career, he retired in 1886, and would devote himself entirely to music. This brought abouthis 1888 appointment as headmaster of what's now the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. However, ill health forced his resignation in 1892, and he died there the following year, leaving a modest oeuvre.
The recordings of the two works on this disc have an interesting history. Moreover, they were made back in 1995, and issued the next year in limited, non-commercial release to celebrate the 150th anniversary of MÁV's founding. Now, some twenty years later, Sterling has licensed them, giving us the first commercially available CD of these romantic rarities.
Those liking his contemporary fellow countryman Karl Goldmark's (1830-1915; see 28 February 2010) Rustic Wedding Symphony (No.1, 1877), will love this disc. That's particularly true of the opening selection, which is the first of Gyula's two symphonies, dating from around 1887.
A four-movement work, the opening "Maestoso; Allegro" ("Majestically; Fast") [T-1] is in sonata form. It gets off to a forte start with a compelling heroic riff (CH) [00:04], hinting at an idea soon to come. This is a flowing melody (CF) [00:14] that smacks of Schumann (1810-1856), followed by a CF-related, audacious motif (CA) [00:42]. The latter two are explored, and succeeded by a CF-derived, melancholy thought (CM) [01:57].
Then all four subjects undergo an extensive, consummate development [02:16] with unifying reminders of CH and CA [beginning at 05:04]. There are moments that bring to mind the last movement of Schubert's Great Symphony (No. 9, D944, 1816) [beginning at 06:05], after which the mood turns introspective.
But not for long as the music becomes increasingly gregarious, and another CH outburst triggers a triumphant recapitulation [09:08]. It's followed by a CM-initiated coda [14:00] that brings the movement to an excited conclusion with a closing reminder of CH [15:56].
Marked "Allegro molto", there's a Goldmarkian, Magyar folkishness about the scherzo [T-2]. Here frisky dance passages surround a comely cantilena [03:40-06:17], and the music couldn't be more different from the subsequent "Adagio cantabile", which is a reverent sonata-rondo [T-3].
This is somewhat reminiscent of the second movement in Schumann's Spring Symphony (No. 1, 1841), and opens with an attractive hymnlike melody (AH) [00:00]. AH is contemplated, and succeeded by a related, venerational countersubject (AV) [02:13]. Then AH and AV both appear in two tandem episodes of different temperament, the first being marchlike [04:04]. It builds in Wagnerian fashion to a rousing martial climax, which gradually fades into a heavenly second [06:20], bringing the music to a pious conclusion.
The final "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with Spirit") [T-4] is structurally similar to the opening movement, and begins with a jubilant, explosive episode [00:00]. This hints at a fugato-introduced, assertive idea (FA) [00:59], succeeded by a swaying lyrical one (SL) [01:28].
SL is explored, and bridges into an increasingly excited development [02:51] notable for horn introduced, FA-related, venatic passages [03:58]. These invoke a joyful recap [04:39] with an FA-big-tune coda [08:56] that ends the symphony triumphantly.
Hungarian influences are more evident in the four-movement Serenade of 1875. Moreover, the initial "Moderato ma non troppo" (Moderate, but not too slow") [T-5] features a couple of Magyar-colored ideas, the first being a two-part tune that starts haltingly [00:00] and becomes resolute [00:29] (HR). It's followed by a fetching winsome melody (FW) [01:01], recalling those gorgeous folk songs from villages on either side of what's now the Hungarian-Slovak-Republic border.
Then we get a ternary, A-B-A "Allegretto vivace" ("Lively and vivacious) [T-6] with delicate, HR-related, coy "A" sections surrounding a haughty "B" [01:07-01:50]. It contrasts nicely with the next "Adagio cantabile" ("Flowing and songlike") [T-7], which is a captivating, romantic serenade featuring an amorous FW-derived idea [00:00].
The concluding "Allegro con fuoco; Allegretto vivace ("Fast with fire; Lively and vivacious") [T-8] gets off to a skittish start [00:00], soon followed by an FW-related, capricious theme (FC) [00:14]. FC is the recurrent motif for a modified rondo, where FW is the subject of a central fugue [02:21-04:06], and then a festive afterthought [05:28] that ends the Serenade cheerfully.
Beliczay's cause is well served by the Budapest MÁV Symphony Orchestra under their music director Tamás Gál. The spirited playing he elicits from these talented musicians make both works significant additions to the catalog of rare, romantic symphonic fare now available on silver disc.
The recordings were made in 1995 (see above) at the Corvin Cultural Center's large Erzsébetliget Színház (Erzsébetliget Theater Hall), Budapest, and project a generous but marginally withdrawn sonic image in agreeably reverberant surroundings. The instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs with occasional grain in massed violin passages, and a satisfying midrange. As for the bass, it's lean and clean, reflecting the composer's use of a conventionally sized orchestra with the standard complement of percussion.
Everything considered, this disc comes up a bit short in the sound department. However, like Sterling's earlier Julián Carrillo (1875-1965) release (see 30 September 2016), that's of little concern, considering it introduces us to more, long lost musical gems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P171231)
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Brian: Syms 8, 21 & 26; Walker/NewRussSt O [Naxos]
AUDIOIPHILE (1 CD)
As far as classical CDs go, this new Naxos represents a milestone. It gives us the world premiere recording of Havergal Brian's (1876-1972) Symphony No. 26 (1966), thereby completing the release of all 32 on disc. It's accompanied here by the Eighth, and appropriately enough the Twenty-First, which was the first of his symphonies to be commercially recorded. These three works represent revealing cross-sections of his stylistic development as outlined in the album notes.
For the most part self-taught, Brian began composing in his teens, and would leave an impressive body of works across all genres. These include 32 extant symphonies, the first of which, subtitled "The Gothic" (1919-27), he didn't complete until age 51. The rest would follow over the next forty years with the last finished in 1968 when he was 92.
As of January 1954, he'd written ten, none of which had been performed. However, things changed that February when English composer, BBC producer Robert Simpson (1921-1997) arranged for a live broadcast of No. 8, which Brian had completed five years earlier (1949).
In one movement lasting just over twenty minutes [T-1], this is a convoluted Havergal happening that's a stream of shifting moods in search of a story. It gets off to a gruff, percussively enhanced, march-like start [00:01], where a reassuring, heroic idea [02:11] makes the first of several appearances. Then after a dramatic pause, all of the foregoing is contemplated in alternately tractable and troubled passages [beginning at 03:08].
After that the music becomes reverential [12:22], and bridges into a haltingly, agitated episode [15:20]. This ends with a couple of forte chords [18:07 & 18:14], followed by a drum roll [18:23] and short afterthought. Then the mood turns introspective [18:41] with reminders of past thoughts, and the symphony concludes in wistful tranquility.
No. 21 of 1963 is a four-movement work, that opens with a perfunctory pluck of the strings [T-2, 00:00] and a lazy preface. Next, a drum roll [00:31] heralds an anxious first subject (AF) [00:35], succeeded by a rhythmically angular second (RA) [01:22]. Strangely enough, RA could be a distant cousin of that old familiar Colonel Bogey March (1914) by British bandmaster-composer Frederick Joseph Ricketts (aka Kenneth J. Alford, 1881-1945).
A turbulent, percussion-reinforced exploration of AF and RA with ominous, bass drum strokes [02:15] follows in what would seem to be the development section of a sonata form structure. But Brian fools us as there's no recapitulation, and the music undergoes a victorious transformation [05:31] that brings the movement to a triumphant conclusion.
A four-note timpani tattoo begins the next adagio [T-3], which features a melancholy melody [00:02]. This undergoes a variety of somber treatments, one of which has a winsome violin descant [02:10-02:34]. These become increasingly disconsolate with the last ending this section in a somber quandary.
Next up, a vivace [T-4] that's in essence a scherzo. Here bass-drum-accented, percussion-embellished, elephantine passages are contrasted with skittering flighty ones. In the end, the latter prevail, bringing this Brian curiosity to a buoyant conclusion.
The final allegro [T-5] is a loosey-goosey, sonata-rondo. It begins with horn calls [00:00], and a subdued preface [00:16], hinting at a fractious, valiant theme (FV) that soon appears [00:51]. FV recurs in a number of guises interspersed with several independent episodes, one [05:01] harkening back to the movement's opening measures.
Then there are two others hinting at AF [06:09] and RA [08:44] (see above), after which there's the start of what promises to be a cataclysmic conclusion. But fractious Havergal pulls the rug out from under us as the music suddenly stops, leaving everyone dangling in midair.
Concluding this release, the Symphony No. 26 (1966) makes a long overdue CD appearance. In three allegro movements, the first [T-6] opens in medias res with thunderous chords and a commanding, martial theme (CM) [00:00]. This gives way to an extended lyrical one (EL) [01:17], and an antic development follows [01:38]. Then there's a nominal, CM-EL recap [05:57] that ends this allegro much like it began.
The second one [T-7] begins furtively [00:00], and becomes increasingly animated in scherzo fashion with plenty of percussion along the way. It then fades, only to be immediately followed by a closing, third allegro [T-8]. This is a raucous rondo with an ebullient recurring motif (ER) [00:00] that scurries around several contrasting episodes.
These are sequentially complacent [00:39], chortling [01:17], serene, with another of those comely violin descants [01:40], and whimsical [03:27]. Then ER returns more crazed than ever [03:42], fueling a deranged climax that ends the symphony as bombastically as it started.
The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra (NRSSO) under conductor Alexander Walker makes a welcome return to these pages giving us more Brian (see 30 April 2015). Maestro Walker once again elicits superb performances from the NRSSO, whose members distinguish themselves in the many solos and small instrumental groupings called for in these robust works.
Made last year in Studio 5 of the Russian State TV & Radio Company, Moscow, the recordings are dynamic, and successfully capture the considerable forces required. Accordingly, they present a substantial soundstage in an enriching venue.
The instrumental timbre is characterized by dazzling highs and a commanding midrange. A preponderance of percussion engenders an impressive, transient bass that goes down to rock bottom. Audiophiles will find this a rigorous test of highend equipment.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y171230)
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Künneke: Pno Conc, Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs), Serenade; Triendl/Theis/MunR O [CPO}
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A couple of years ago we got a taste of German Composer Eduard Künneke's music (1885-1953; see 23 February 2015), which left us wanting more, and here it is on this new CPO release. Born in Emmerich, Germany, close to the Netherlands border, Eduard showed musical talent at a very early age, and began composing as a boy.
He first studied in his hometown, and upon graduation in 1903 moved to Berlin, where he took up composition, and could count Max Bruch (1838-1920) among his teachers. The year 1907 saw him launch a successful musical career, and by 1909 he'd written the first of 5 operas and some twenty operettas that would establish him as the Franz Lehár (1870-1948; see 7 October 2011) of Germany.
While they represent the major part of his oeuvre, there are also a number of orchestral pieces, three of which are featured here. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Alongside the piano concertos of Gershwin (1898-1937; see 31 March 2011) and Ravel (1875-1937), Eduard's only surviving one of 1935 is a jazz-influenced, three-movement work. The opening "Allegro" [T-1] begins with a grand orchestral gesture, and cascading bravura piano pronouncements [00:01] that have a catchy riff (CR) [00:08]. All this betokens a fetching 1920-30s, dancelike tune (FD) played by the soloist [01:05]. Note the accompaniment includes saxophones, and FD suggests the opening theme of Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand (1931).
Then FD undergoes a dramatic exploration, followed by a related, amorous countermelody (FA) [03:35] that becomes the subject of an introspective segment. Next, there's a lush, developmental episode involving FD [06:55] and FA [08:10], which brings to mind flamboyant moments in Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) piano concertos (1917-41).
After that powerful hints of FD [09:26] bridge via a pensive cadenza [10:01] into a merry recap [11:26], and a thrilling final coda [13:23]. The latter has a big tune version of FA [13:29], and closes the movement with excited allusions to CR [14:50].
The "Moderato" [T-2] is in ternary, A-B-A form with aria-like "A" sections based on a warm, winsome theme. They evoke images of gently swaying palms on some tropical isle, and surround an agitated, virtuosic "B" [02:47-04:51] that's a passing tempest of notes.
A closing sonata-rondo marked "Lebhaft" ("Lively") [T-3] starts as advertised with an animated, cocky idea (AC) [00:00], which is succeeded by an AC-related, tuneful melody (AT) [00:25]. The two are explored, and followed by an AT-derived lyrical theme in the violins (AL) [01:14] that’s soon picked up by the piano [01:47]. Then there's a segment, where AC and AT become partners in a terrific dance episode [02:22] reminiscent of those Roaring-Twenties and 1930s Swing numbers, which were popular in New York and Paris.
After all that excitement, an AC-based fugato [03:21] introduces a brief, more formal development, and an AC-AT-AL concatenation triggers a dramatic recap [05:05]. The latter then ends this jazzy, jubilant concerto in a frisky coda [08:04].
With associations like that, Nazi cultural authorities may have banned the work as "Negermusik" ("Negro Music"), which was considered "Entartete" ("Degenerate"). Moreover, following its 1935 Berlin premiere, the concerto wouldn't be heard again until it appeared on a couple of post-World-War-II German broadcasts.
Turning to Eduard’s pre-Nazi era works, this release is filled out with a couple written in 1907. Zigeunerweisen (Gypsy Airs) is a set of four orchestral notions that's a cross between Sarasate's (1844-1908) homonymous collection (1878) and Brahms' (1833-1897) Hungarian Dances (1868-80).
A solo clarinet gets the initial "Giocoso" ("Playful") [T-4] off to a folksy start, after which it turns into a catchy Magyar ditty. Next, there are a couple of "Allegros" that are respectively cheeky [T-5] and hesitantly syncopated [T-6]. Last but not least, an "Allegretto" [T-7] brings this delightful bit of juvenilia to a comely, coquettish conclusion.
Then the CD concludes with a youthful, five-movement Serenade for orchestra (1907). This brings to mind the delightful ones of Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) written in 1874-94 (see 18 April 2011 and 25 April 2012), which the composer may well have known. Eduard's opens with a colorfully scored "Alla marcia" [T-8], smacking of marches penned by members of the Strauss Family (1804-1916) back in (1829-93). After that there's a lovely "Andante" [T-9] based on a heartfelt, yearning melody, which builds to a dramatic climax and quietly fades away.
It's followed by an infectious "Scherzo" [T-10] with the effervescence of bubbling champagne, and a ternary "Romance" [T-11], The latter has nostalgic "A" sections that surround a heroic "B" [01:50-03:35], where Wagner's (1813-1883) Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1862-7) may come to mind. Then "Finale" [T-12] pays homage to Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) more Puckish moments, bringing the work to a pixilated close.
German pianist Oliver Triendl, who just appeared in last month's newsletter (see 31 October 2017), playing Fuchs (see above), serves up more magnificent rare fare here. He delivers a stunning performance of a too-long-forgotten work that even slipped under Hyperion’s "Romantic Piano Concerto" radar. Austrian conductor Ernst Theis and the Munich Radio Orchestra give him solid support, and capture the coltish innocence of the other two selections.
A coproduction of CPO and Bavarian Radio (BR), the recordings were made in 2015 at BR's Studio 1, Munich, and project a distant sonic image in accommodating surroundings. The balance between soloist and tutti is good with the piano satisfactorily captured. As for the orchestral sound, it's serviceable, but characterized by brittle highs, particularly in the violins, a gaunt midrange and lean lows. However, with engaging music such as this, sonic shortcomings are soon forgotten.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P171229)
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Sviridov: Pno Trio, Pno Qnt; Chermonov/Babeshko/BeethTrioBonn [CAvi Music]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Please welcome Russian composer Georgy Sviridov (1915-1998) to these pages on this exceptional CAvi Music release, featuring the Beethoven Trio Bonn (BTB). Born some 300 miles south of Moscow in the Kursk region, Georgy grew up, and received his first musical training there, after which he moved to Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) in 1932 to continue his education at a music college there.
He'd graduate in 1936, and next attended the local conservatory, where one of his instructors was Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975; see 31 May 2017). Sviridov then got his degree in June 1941, shortly after Nazi Germany's Operation Barbarossa invasion of what was then the Soviet Union.
He'd leave a significant body of late romantic works that for the most part fall into the vocal category. But Georgy also wrote a few, superb chamber pieces, three of which fill out this CD. They include the only currently available versions on disc of his Piano Trio and Quintet, the latter being a world premiere recording.
The concert begins with the 1954 revision of his four-movement Trio originally written in 1945. It's a memorable successor to those by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), Taneyev (1856-1915), Arensky (1861-1906), Rachmaninov (1873-1943), and particularly Gyorgy's mentor, Shostakovich.
The opening "Elegy" [T-1] is an emotionally wrought utterance that seemingly reflects the horrific experiences the composer had during World War II (1939-45; see the informative album notes). Accordingly, it opens with a lugubrious thematic nexus (LN) [00:00], which undergoes a dismembering development [01:25] that becomes increasingly agitated ŕ la Shostakovich. The music then wanes into some teardrop pizzicato [05:11], after which EL returns [05:47], ending the movement as it began.
A busy ternary "Scherzo" [T-2] is next, whose opening section (OS) starts with a frenetic fiddle tune [00:00] linked to a pouncing piano riff [00:21]. A subsequent elated trio section has a couple of smiling ideas [01:57], after which OS resurfaces [03:18], bringing the movement full circle.
Then the mood darkens with "Funeral March" [T-3]. This is a passacaglia, featuring an LN-based, despairing main idea (LD) [00:10] tinged with that perennial harbinger of doom, the Dies Irae [00:55]. LD is first served up by the violin [00:10] with a piano chaser [01:04], and undergoes a pleading transformation [02:27]. It then returns [05:22], and the music wanes into a faint heartbeat that just gives out.
The work ends with a fitful, rondoesque "Idyll" [T-4], which starts with sunny piano passages. They hint at a quaint pastoral ditty (QP) soon played by the strings [00:20] that becomes the subject of a subsequent, excited episode [01:04]. This momentarily slackens, and after a brief pause we get pounding piano chords [02:17] succeeded by shrieks of QP [02:20]. They invoke another animated segment, which subsides into relaxed passages presumably bringing the work to a tranquil conclusion.
Not!!! The composer fools us with a deceptive pause, after which there are more ff keyboard chords [05:38], followed by the strings playing a destitute rendition of QP [06:00]. This ends the work with a despondent finality reminiscent of dark moments in the Tchaikovsky and second Shostakovich piano trios (1882 & 1944).
Sviridov's four-movement Piano Quintet completed in 1945 opens "Allegro moderato" [T-5], and starts with a lithe, meandering theme (LM) [00:00]. It undergoes a chromatic exploration, which becomes increasingly agitated, giving way to a captious, martial idea (CM) [01:45].
Then LM initiates a manic development of both subjects [02:43]. This gradually abates, and subdued reminders of CM [06:24] bring the music to a restrained, perfunctory conclusion.
Next, we get a "Presto" [T-6] that's a frenetic scherzo, recalling wilder moments in Shostakovich's chamber music. It's offset by a despondent "Molto adagio" [T-7] based on a bleak, itinerant theme (BI) [00:00] with a recurrent, weeping motif [00:39]. BI is then worked into a climax of desperation, which fades away, ending the movement dejectedly.
The Quintet concludes with a "Tema con variazioni" ("Theme and Variations") [T-8], where a folkish, angular subject (FA) [00:00] undergoes six diverse transformations. The first three are sequentially headstrong [00:42], songlike [01:12] and amorous [02:02]. Then there's a belligerent fourth [02:41] with maybe a touch of Bartok's (1881-1945) Concerto for Orchestra (1943).
It's succeeded by a commanding fifth [04:33] and catastrophic sixth [05:04], after which FA makes a thunderous return on the piano [05:15], only to be followed by a curious, FA-based, keening chaconne [05:33]. The latter dissipates into a morose mist, closing the Quintet in the depths of despair.
In 1964 Sviridov wrote the music for a movie titled The Blizzard (aka The Snow Storm) based on Russian writer Alexander Pushkin's (1799-1837) eponymous short story (1830). He then distilled a suite from it (1964) that contains a "Romanza". This gained worldwide popularity, and has consequently appeared in a number of arrangements. The one here for piano trio is by BTB violinist, Mikhail Ovrutsky (b. 1980).
It starts with an arresting piano introduction [T-9, 00:00], followed by a gorgeous, swaying theme (GS) for the violin [00:30] that's picked up by the cello [01:28]. GS is then repeated, takes on big tune proportions [03;24], and ebbs away, leaving the listener with melancholy afterthoughts.
The BTB give impassioned, sensitive renditions of both trio selections, and are joined by violinist Artur Chermonov and violist Vladimir Babeshko for an equally stirring account of the Quintet. The piano parts in all three works are considerably demanding, and Jinsang Lee gets a special round of applause for his technically accomplished, articulate playing.
A coproduction of CAvi Music and Bavarian Radio (BR) Klassik, these 2016 recordings were made at BR's Studio 2, Munich, and project a close, compact sonic image in enriching, somewhat reverberant surroundings. The piano is convincingly captured, and comes across with a pleasant percussive clarity perfectly suited to Sviridov's feisty music. It's placed center, and well balanced against the strings, which are natural sounding.
Twentieth century chamber music enthusiasts, particularly Shostakovich fans, should relish this disc, and that includes any audiophiles among them. Incidentally, there are some additional Russian treasures on BTB's previous CAvi release (see CAvi-8553277).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y171228)
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Weiner, Leó: Seren (orch), Diverts 1 & 2 (stgs), Diverts 3, 4 & 5 (orch); N.Järvi/EstNa SO [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Hungarian composer Leó Weiner (1885-1960) makes a welcome return to these pages (see 31 March 2016) with this new Chandos release. Best known as one of the finest instructors at his old alma mater the Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Budapest, he could count such great conductors as Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), Antal Dorati (1906-1988; see 31 August 2015) and Georg Solti (1912-1997) among his students. Leó would also write a small number of romantically inclined orchestral works.
All six of the ones here, which include his five Divertimentos, have folk associations, the first selection being his four-movement Serenade for small orchestra of 1906. Stylistically, it's along the lines of those Hungarian motivated Brahms (1833-1897) dances (1868-80) and Liszt (1811-1886) rhapsodies (1846-8). That's apparent right from the beginning number [T-1], which is a vibrant, rustic romp. Then we get a scherzo [T-2] with furtive outer sections wrapped around a piping trio tune [02:46-04:00].
The next movement [T-3] opens with a melancholy, solo clarinet soon joined by the strings playing a wistful, Magyar-tinged melody (WM) [00:27]. After that the mood turns jocund with three chortling wind passages [beginning at 01:52], succeeded by the return of the clarinet and reminders of WM [03:47]. Then there's a more elaborately scored, Hungarian-tinged, bacchanalian finale [T-4], which ends this delightful Serenade in jolly fashion.
Lasting between ten and fifteen minutes each, Weiner's Divertimentos are treasurable Hungarian folk miniatures. The First of 1933-4 is for string orchestra, and marked "After Old Hungarian Dances". Dedicated to Fritz Reiner (see above), it's a set of five delightful toe-tapping selections, where there's no question about their nationality. And what better way to start off than with a proud czardas (csárdás) [T-5]!
It's followed by a scampering "Fox Dance" [T-6], and an arresting waltz [T-7], which is from the Marosszék region of old Hungary (1000-1946), and brings to mind Kodály's (1882-1967) eponymous dances (1927). Then the work closes with a martial "Recruiting Dance" (“Verbunkos”) [T-8], and something called a "Barn-stamper" [T-9], which seems the Magyar equivalent of an American hoedown.
The Second Divertimento from 1938 bears the subtitle "Hungarian Folk Melodies", and is also scored for strings. The first of its four movements is a jaunty "Wedding Dance" [T-10] with a czardas beat. Then there’s an impish "Joking Dance" [T-11], which is scherzo-like. Here lithe passages based on a simple, fast-slow ditty [00:00] set to some colorful pizzicato, embrace a dainty trio section [01:51-03:09].
The work concludes with a slow, wistful "Complaint" [T-12], and rustic "Swineherd's Song" [T-13]. The latter's agitated first bars are followed by an insistent driving melody (ID) [00:06] that takes on increasingly intense guises. These give way to a brief contemplative episode [02:16], and then ID returns [03:17]. It becomes even more frenetic than before, and brings the Divertimento to a brisk conclusion.
A decade would pass before Leó would write another, and then within the space of two years (1949-51), he completed the last three, all of which are five-movement works scored for full orchestral. Stylistically speaking, these are more progressive, and mirror the music of his contemporary fellow countrymen Bartók (1881-1945) and Kodály.
The Third Divertimento (1949) captioned "Hungarian Impressions" begins with a catchy "Bagpipe Song" [T-14]. It undergoes a couple of inventive transformations that bring this movement to a quiet conclusion. Then things turn heavy-hearted in the next "Tearful" [T-15]. But not for long as we the get a cheeky "Shepherd's Joke" [T-16], rapturous modal "Ballad" [T-17], and perky pastoral "Masquerade Song" [T-18], which ends this Divertimento on a lighter note.
Although the Fourth of 1951 bears no subtitle, it's another set of Magyar memorabilia, and opens with a subdued, modal czardas [T-19]. This is followed by a flighty, whirling "Turn Dance" [T-20], again of Marosszék origin (see above), and a distressed number referred to as "The Sorrowful Shepherd" [T-21].
After that there's an orchestral rendition of a fetching ditty by someone named Ignác Gábor [T-22], who the album notes tell us was a Hungarian folk fiddler. Do you suppose he was any relation to Zsa Zsa (1917-2016)?
Then the piece closes with a tiny theme and variations [T-23]. This has a laughing A-B-A subject [00:00-00:30] succeeded by four skittish variants [beginning at 00:32], and ends the work with a forte guffaw.
The Fifth Divertimento, also completed in 1951, is labelled "Hungarian Impressions" like the Third, and begins with another "Recruiting Song" [T-24] (see above). However, this one is set to a moody czardas rhythm, and features a solo clarinet, which also delivers a lengthy cadenza [04:08-06:03]. Then there are three short ditties labelled "Joking" [T-25], "Tramp's" [T-26] and "Love" [T-27], which are sequentially playful, downtrodden and appropriately amorous.
Weiner concludes the work with a big smile, giving us "The Bagpiper from Nógrád" [T-28], who's represented by the winds playing a folksy, cheerful tune (FC) [00:00]. This turns increasingly animated as other instruments join in, giving rise to bits of past thoughts [01:42]. Then FC makes a raucous reappearance [02:48], turns skittish, and ends the Divertimento with a final whoop.
Once again Chandos treats us to some more rare, Eastern European repertoire with the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra (ENSO) under their Music Director Neeme Järvi (see 31 July 2015). Having just become an octogenarian, you'd never know it from the spirited performances Maestro Järvi gets from his ENSO musicians. He turns what in lesser hands might come off as ordinary fare, into a memorable listening experience.
The recordings were taken from live performances in the Estonian Concert Hall, Tallinn, between 2015 and 2016. However, good microphone placement, as well as skillful postproduction touch-up and editing preclude any extraneous audience noise or applause. Moreover, we're presented with a consistently broad, slightly distant sonic image in acceptably reverberant surroundings. The production staff gets high marks for successfully capturing as well as highlighting the many instrumental soloists and groups called for in these colorful scores.
That said, the instrumental timbre is lifelike with bright highs, particularly in the upper strings, and a pleasing midrange. As for the low end, while Weiner's conservative scoring won't test the profundities of the best sound systems, what's here is immaculate.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y171227)
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