CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
28 FEBRUARY 2018
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.
Nixon, H.C.: Concert Ov 2, Constk (pno & orch), May..., Witch… Prel, Dance…; Hobson/Mann/Kodály PO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Here's Toccata's second installment in their ongoing three volume survey devoted to English composer Henry Cotter Nixon's (1842-1907) extant orchestral works (see 31 January 2017). All five selections are first recordings, a couple of which appear thanks to the considerable editorial efforts of our conductor Paul Mann. Once again, the album documentation includes detailed analyses of all these, so we'll limit ourselves to general comments about them.
The program begins with the prelude to Nixon's one-act, romantic operetta The Witch of Esgair (1895) [T-1]. It's presented in what's referred to as a "practical performing edition", which is a "Manneristic" reworking of the score's manuscript. That said, the underlying plot involves mysterious shipwrecks off the coast of Cornwall, England, and has two main protagonists named Caradoc and Daisy, she being the titular "Witch". They're the son and adopted daughter of an old farmer, and live with him in Esgair, Wales.
As for the music, Gilbert (1836-1911) and Sullivan's (1842-1900) operettas come immediately to mind right from its harried start [00:00]. Then there's a relaxed transition [00:40] into a tuneful, clarinet-colored passage [00:58], which gives way to four sequential episodes. These anticipate those sections of the stage work, where Caradoc and Daisy introduce themselves, and lay the groundwork for what's to come (see the album notes).
The first one is an engaging, waltz offering [02:22] dominated by the cornet, which represents Daisy. Then the next three feature Caradoc's instrumental counterpart, the euphonium. These are sequentially jiggish [03:21], songlike [05:18] and gracefully gliding [06:40]. The last transitions [07:45] into a captivating, "oom-pah" march [08:01] that ends the work in bass-drum-accented, Sullivanesque triumph.
Dating from twelve years earlier, we next have Henry's Concert-Stück [sic] for piano and orchestra (1883). It owes a debt to Robert Schumann (1810-1856), and atypically consists of a slow first movement followed by two fast ones.
The initial "Andante" (IA) [T-2] opens with the orchestra introducing a sullen, crepuscular idea (SC) [00:00] that's contemplated and soon picked up by the piano [01:34]. This is explored with encouragement from the tutti [beginning at 02:42], who then introduce a comely optimistic melody [03:16]. This is explored by the soloist [03:49] with iterant support from the orchestra, which becomes quite animated, and falls away into a brief caesura.
It’s immediately followed by the next movement [T-3] that begins "Allegro" with the piano playing an infectious, scurrying ditty [00:00] succeeded by a whimsical, Mendelssohnian idea for the tutti [01:41]. The latter is seconded by the soloist [01:57], which is cause for everyone to engage in a frenetic, rondoesque exploration of all the foregoing material.
Then the music suddenly turns "Andante" with the reappearance of SC (see above) in the orchestra [05:01], and after a brief pause, the tutti initiate the final "Allegro spiritoso" (“Fast and Spirited”) [T-4]. This features a marvelous, SC-related, bounding theme (SB) [00:00] that's an amalgam of Brahms (1833-1897) and Saint-Saëns (1835-1921). It’s eagerly taken up by the piano [00:32], which with encouragement from the orchestral, launches into a highly virtuosic, developmental episode [00:58].
Then SB makes a return in the tutti [03:49], who follow up with a new SC-derived, longing melody (SL) [04:30]. This is cause for a bravura treatment of SL by the soloist [04:59], after which it’s explored by everyone with SB asides for the orchestra [beginning at 06:20]. These become increasingly pronounced, and lead to an SB-based coda [08:21] that brings the work to a thrilling conclusion. In retrospect, it's surprising this captivating, British keyboard caper hasn't yet appeared on one of Hyperion's "Romantic Piano Concerto" releases.
The concert continues in a somewhat lighter vein with Henry's Scherzo of 1884 known as "May Day" [T-5]. Although there's no underlying program, the title implies it’s a commemoration of springtime. And like a couple of selections on Toccata's previous Nixon disc (see 31 January 2017), the music inhabits Felix Mendelssohn’s (1809-1847) world, namely the scherzo from a A Midsummer's Night Dream (1826-42) and the first movement of his Scottish Symphony (No.3, 1842).
The opening, festive horn flourishes [00:00] bring to mind a vernal predecessor of Nixon's piece, namely Robert Schumann's Spring Symphony (No. 1, 1841). But things soon turn Mendelssohnian with the appearance of a delicate, airy theme (DA) [00:11] that's jostled about, and succeeded by a catchy, winding melody (CW) [01:16]. Then the two ideas are explored, and followed by a devout hymnlike tune (DH) [03:05], which in the context of this work would seem to be an ode to spring.
DH is contemplated, there’s a brief pause, and we get a perky, DA-CW-related episode [05:03]. After that the opening measures reappear [06:03] with CW [07:07] bridging into a DA-CW-DH-derived coda [08:32]. This has more hints of the aforementioned Schumann [10:01], and ends the piece in full bloom.
Moving right along we get a four-minute "Pizzicato for Strings" with the suggestive, but otherwise unexplained title, Dance of the Sea Nymphs (1899) [T-6]. This is based on a fetching, frolicsome tune, and as the album notes point out, it's along the lines of Johann Strauss Jr.'s (1825-1899) Pizzicato Polka (1870). However, unlike that, there's a curt, conventionally bowed passage [01:12-01:31] devoid of any pizzicato, and Henry’s music is all the more colorful for it.
By way of background in regard to the closing Concert Overture No. 2 [T-7], Toccata's initial Nixon CD gave us his first of these (see 31 January 2017), and their upcoming, final release will include the third and last, titled "Titania" (1880).
The one here bears another of those Latin epithets he so loved, namely "Anima et Fide". Unfortunately, he must have forgotten his high-school Latin, because it should be "Animo et Fide", which translates as "By Courage and Faith".
Lasting a little over twenty minutes, many will find this rigorously structured work the most impressive piece on this disc. It also possesses a sense of drama like that found in symphonic poems; however, the composer never indicated any underlying program.
The piece opens with a timorous, apprehensive idea (TA) [00:00], which becomes increasingly troubled, and suddenly quits. Then the brass initiate what's presumably a "courage-and-faith" motif (CF) [03:04]. This leads to a series of episodes that are variations based on TA and/or CF, which ostensibly reflect a variety of emotional states.
The first starts with a whack on the timpani [04:12], and seemingly represents a heroic sense of fearlessness. It's followed by feelings of contentment [06:52], self-assurance [07:41], and elation [09:14], which with another stroke on the timpani [12:17] turn aggressive. Then the mood becomes one of complacency [14:47], concern [15:36], rapture [16:31], and childlike happiness [17:04]. After that, the work ends in a resplendent CF, brass-drumroll-enhanced coda of faith [18:44].
As on Toccata's first volume, Paul Mann gets enthusiastic performances of all five selections from the Kodály Philharmonic Orchestra (KPO). Named for the great Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967), the KPO is joined by pianist Ian Hobson for the Concert-Stück [sic]. He gives an exemplary account of all the demanding keyboard passages that abound in this score.
Made at the Pásti Synagogue, Debrecen, Hungary, the recordings present a wide but marginally recessed sonic image in reverberant surroundings. The piano seems somewhat spread across the soundstage, and could have been more centered and highlighted, thereby showing off Mr. Hobson's considerable efforts to greater advantage.
As for the overall instrumental timbre, it's characterized by steely highs with some grainy upper passages for the violins. The midrange is generally acceptable, and the bass goes down to rock-bottom with a hint of bass drum hangover, but is otherwise clean.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180228)
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Patterson, P.: Vn Conc 2 "Serenade" (w G.Jacob & Leighton); Howick/Llewellyn/BBCScot SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Naxos scores big-time with this new release devoted to world premiere recordings of three British violin concertos written between 1952 and 2013. You'll find them a refreshing change from those earlier, twentieth century ones, where the violin wages a pitched battle against immense orchestral forces. Moreover, these are conservatively scored works with refined dialogues between soloist and tutti.
The first composer represented is Paul Patterson (b. 1947), who studied at the Royal Academy of Music (RAM), London, and has had a distinguished teaching career there. He's also written numerous works across all genres, except opera, many of which have won awards, and achieved international acclaim.
These include a substantial number for his favorite instrument, the harp, and as of now, two violin concertos. the second of which is featured here. Written in 2013 for the soloist on this CD, and subtitled "Serenade", it's in three movements.
The first marked "Toccata" [T-1] begins with the violin playing an engaging, folkish tune (EF) [00:03], set to a spirited orchestral accompaniment. EF is then tossed back-and-forth in a whimsical, exploration [00:21], which is followed by the soloist intoning a variant of EF that's soothingly songlike (ES) [01:58].
ES gives rise to a pastoral sounding episode with avian-like woodwinds [02:10]. This transitions via some pizzicato [02:52] into passages recalling the work's opening mood [03:05]. They embrace a curtate cadenza [03:28-03:43], and turn reflectively rhapsodic [04:04] with some celestial harp work [04:49] that ends the movement tranquilly.
Next, Patterson invokes a "Barcarolle" [T-2]. It opens with the soloist playing an innocent, sinuous theme (IS) [00:00] that's gradually picked up by the tutti. IS then meanders about, interspersed with pensive, frequently harp-spiced moments of commentary. After that woodwind reminders of IS [06:55], shimmering strings, a subdued harp flourish and hushed drumroll transition into the closing "Valse-Scherzo" [T-3].
This begins with fleeting riffs for winds and pizzicato strings [00:02], anticipating an airy, flirtatious theme (AF), which will appear in a couple of minutes. Then there's a dramatic drumroll [00:29] and difficult cadenza [00:32], having suggestions of AF.
It closes with some spunky pizzicato passages [01:45], and the tutti launch into an audacious episode [02:01] that owes a debt to Ravel's (1875-1937) Valses nobles et sentimentales (1911) and La valse (1920). Here we finally get AF [02:10], which is played by the violin with some help from the orchestra. And as an added bonus, the soloist gives us an IS-related, amorous countermelody (IA) [02:32].
IA is tweaked along with AF, and then followed by an even more amorous version of itself [03:40]. After that IS returns [04:47], and there's a skittish, AF-fueled episode [05:14], having reminders of IA [beginning at 05:45]. This is succeeded by an AF-IA-based coda [07:20] that ends the concerto in a swirl of jubilation.
Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) makes a welcome return to these pages (see 10 September 2010) with his only Violin Concerto of 1952. It dates from the years he spent in Rome as a British Mendelssohn Scholar, where one of his teachers was Goffredo Petrassi (1904-2003; see 23 June 2014. In that regard, some lovelorn Italian verses by poet Ada Negri (1870-1945) preface this stygian score (see the informative album notes).
The first of its four movements marked "Allegro con brio, molto ritmico" ("Lively with Spirit, and Very Rhythmical") [T-4] is in sonata form, and gets off to a troubled start with the orchestra playing an agitated, propulsive theme (AP) [00:00] soon picked up by the violin [00:28]. There's a rhythmic urgency about AP that brings to mind busy moments in the music of Sir William Walton (1902-1983).
AP triggers an exploratory passage [01:09] laced with fancy fiddling set to a frenetic accompaniment. This suddenly ends with a drumroll [01:29] and sustained note for the orchestra [01:29], over which the violin enters. It annunciates a forlorn, four-note riff (FF) [01:33] that's the first part of a longing second subject (FL) with all twelve notes of the chromatic scale.
Then FL triggers an FF-laced, volatile development of all the foregoing material [01:53], which terminates in a demanding cadenza [03:47]. After that the soloist begins a recap with shivering hints of AP [05:31], and is soon joined by the tutti [05:41]. This bridges into a nostalgic return of FL [06:08] linked to an excited AP-fueled coda [06:49] that ends the movement peremptorily.
A despondent intermezzo indicated as "Moderato con molto, sempre dolce" ("Very Moderate, and Always Tender") follows [T-5] based on an anguished amorous idea introduced by the violin [00:01]. Except for a brief, dramatic outburst [01:55-02:18], this is dark music that dissipates into mists of despair.
The foregoing is totally offset by what follows! It's a scherzo marked "Allegro molto e nervoso" ("Very Fast and Tense") [T-6] with skittish outer sections, featuring a jittery tune spun out by the soloist [00:00]. They surround a bizarre, waltzlike trio segment [01:03-02:16] that may bring to mind the works of Ravel mentioned above.
But skies once again turn gray with the closing "Epilogo -- Lento, molto sostenuto ed intenso" ("Epilogue -- Slow, Very Sustained and Intense") [T-7]. Here sad woodwinds preface [00:00] an AP-derived, lugubrious lament (AL) sung by the violin [00:08]. AL undergoes a dark development with pervasive, systolic, timpanic beats (ST) [beginning at 00:34], which build to the musical equivalent of a heart attack [03:06-03:22] -- shades of Mahler's Tenth Symphony (1910; realized 1976).
After that, impassioned passages for the soloist set to a grieving accompaniment [beginning at 03:47] trail off into quiescent, AL-ST-related ones [04:54]. The latter are briefly interrupted by some final fiddle flourishes [05:24-05:35], and then fade away as the work dies of heart failure.
Last but not least, we have a concerto by Gordon Jacob (1895-1984), who studied at the Royal College of Music, London, where his instructors included Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924; see 22 November 2011), Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958; see 31 April 2017) and Herbert Howells (1892-1983). He'd then go on to teach there, and could count Elizabeth Maconchy (1907-1994), Ruth Gipps (1921-1999; see 21 December 2012), Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006; see 18 December 2008) and Joseph Horovitz (b. 1926; see 12 April 2010) among his students.
Jacob wrote some twenty concertos, that include two for violin, and it's the last of these, calling for an all string orchestra, which is done here. Completed in 1953, there are three movements, the opening one being a sonata form "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with Spirit") [T-8] that starts with a perfunctory pizzicato plunk. Then the soloist plays a headstrong, pragmatic theme (HP) [00:00], followed by an HP-related, lilting countermelody (HL) [00:45].
The two ideas are briefly explored [01:19], and succeeded by a slow, HL-spiced, contemplative episode [01:49]. This quickens with hints of HP [beginning at 03:13] into a recap where it's fully stated [03:28], and followed by the return of HL [03:50]. Then there's a captivating cadenza [04:16], which gives way to a spirited, HL-HP-derived coda [05:23] that ends the movement with an impertinent fillip of HP.
A melancholy "Andante expressivo" ("Expressively Flowing") [T-9] is next. The longest movement here, it's a gorgeous reverie for the soloist set to a loving accompaniment. Based on a moving, HP-derived thematic nexus first played by the violin [00:00], this unfolds in highly romantic fashion, and concludes with a touch of nostalgia.
It couldn't be more different from the final rondoesque "Allegro ma non troppo" ("Lively, but Not Too Fast") [T-10], which begins with a chugging, locomotive-like motif for the tutti [00:00]. They're immediately joined by the soloist playing a flippant ditty (FD) [00:02] and FD-related, wayward countersubject (FW) [00:43]. After that, bits of FD return in the orchestra [01:29], and we get some bravura passages for the violin, followed by an FW-tinged episode [02:06].
This adjoins a lovely pastoral thought [02:55], which is succeeded by a nervous bridge [03:09] into a recap of the opening measures. Then a demon cadenza [04:36] triggers an excited coda, where everyone returns touting a last reminder of FD [05:17] that ends the concerto decisively.
Our soloist here, Clare Howick, specializes in twentieth century, British violin repertoire, and accordingly delivers enthusiastic performances of these works. They come off all the richer for her playing a 1718 Stradivarius loaned to her by the RAM (see above) for this production. What's more, she receives outstanding support from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Welsh conductor Grant Llewellyn.
Made at City Halls Concert Hall, Glasgow, Scotland, the recordings are excellent, projecting a generous soundstage in an ideally reverberant acoustic. The violin is well captured, and balanced against the orchestra throughout. As for the overall instrumental timbre, it's characterized by acceptably bright highs, a well-focused midrange, and clean bass with no inkling of hangover in lower string passages. That said, there are some brief, mysterious thumps towards the end of the first movement in Patterson’s concerto [T-1].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180227)
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Poling: Gtr Conc 1 "Concierto De Chiaro"; Ste 2 "Along These..." (stg orch); De Chiaro/Poling/Lon SO [Centaur]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Kermit Poling (b. 1960) makes his CLOFO debut with this new Centaur release. A distinguished conductor and virtuoso violinist, he's also one of America's most up-and-coming composers, who's written a modest number of works in the symphonic and chamber music genres. The two selections filling out this CD are in the former category, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Both are elegantly crafted, immediately accessible pieces with lasting appeal, and the program begins with his guitar concerto of 2016 called "Concierto De Chiaro". The name reflects stylistic hints of Spanish music, which is invariably associated with the guitar, and honors the work's dedicatee, Poling's friend, classical guitarist Giovanni De Chiaro. What's more, "chiaro" in Italian means "light", which he says mirrors his underlying intent to make each of the work's three movements tone paintings.
In that regard, he allows as how the initial one marked "Moving, in 2" [T-1] limns the subdued light through trees in a forest. Accordingly, it opens with orchestral murmurs [00:00] suggestive of morning sunshine and breezes, giving rise to soft shadows of overhead leaves in some arboreal setting. Then the guitar introduces an attractive, ambulant melody (AA) [00:10], bearing a strange resemblance to Percy Grainger's (1882-1961) Walking Tune (1905).
Subsequent peripatetic passages with woodwinds hinting at forest birds, conjure up visions of someone, guitar in hand, strolling through some wooded thicket at daybreak. The concluding measures have a contemplative, AA-based cadenza [06:55-08:06], where seemingly our nature lover stops to savor and serenade his surroundings. Then the tutti return to end the movement with more warm sunlight.
Old Sol climbs higher in the next A-B-A "Adagio" [T-2], where "A" is in three conjoined segments. The first of these opens with a gently swaying idea for the orchestra [00:00], and piquant, wistful oboe tune (PW) [00:20] that’s picked up by the guitar [01:01]. The second and third segments are respectively demure [01:40] and antsy [02:18] variations of PW.
"B" is a Spanish-spiced, dancelike offering (SD) that starts off proud [03:10], and becomes somewhat coy [05:35]. Then the return of "A" [06:20] bathes our forest scene in warm, midmorning sunlight, and the movement ends with nostalgic afterthoughts of SD [08:57]. These leave it hanging in anticipation of the concluding one.
Marked "Allegro" [T-3], this is a sparkling, rondoesque, high-noon offering that starts with a jumpy motif for the tutti [00:00]. It's immediately succeeded by the woodwinds playing a fetching, angular idea (FA) [00:02], which is repeated by the guitar [00:22], and then takes on a couple of guises. The first is a romantically inclined treatment (FR) [00:37] with Spanish flourishes [00:58-01:12], and the next, a folklike rendering (FF) [01:36], having a hint of that old familiar American hymn, "We gather together" (1903) [02:02-02:14].
Then there's a pensive bridge [02:28] into the return of FA [02:49]. This is explored with some fancy finger work for the soloist, and an FR-FF-FA-based coda [05:43] ends the concerto with a final burst of sunshine.
In 2008 the composer began writing string quartets, whose movements take their inspiration from saints recognized by the Catholic Church. So far, he's completed three (dates unknown; currently unavailable on disc), and since expanded each into a suite for string orchestra (dates unknown).
At present there are no commercial recordings of the first and last suites, but the second titled "Along These Footsteps to Paradise" fills out this release. Humorously speaking, the seven saints represented in Poling's thirty-minute work, certainly outnumber the Four Saints in Three Acts of Virgil Thomson's (1895-1989) opera (1927).
Not only that, three of Kermit's seven are Archangels, and his saints go marching in led by the one known as "St. Raphael (Moving, in 2)" [T-4]. He's identified with physical as well as emotional healing, and his music begins with a repeated six-note riff [00:00] soon followed by a lissome, curative motif (LC) [00:04].
LC is repeated [00:29], explored, and succeeded by three related, sequentially robust [01:07], soothing (LS) [01:37], and authoritative [02:32] ideas that bridge into one another. Then LS returns [03:23] followed by the opening measures [04:30], and the movement ends tranquilly.
Next there's "St. Maria Kowalska (Adagio)" [T-5]. She was a Polish nun, full name Maria Faustina Kowalska (also spelled Faustyna; 1905-1938), whose writings instigated the Catholic devotion to Divine Mercy. It involves repetitive prayers to God for forgiveness of sins, and consequently, the music is a subdued litany that brings to mind praying the Rosary.
Then we get another Archangel in "St. Gabriel (Presto)" [T-6]. He's considered by many to be a Celestial Satchmo, but there's no hint of a trumpet here! Rather, his being the patron saint of messengers and communications seems characterized by brief rhythmic phrases that come and go throughout the movement.
Turning to the New World, there's "Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (Lento)" [T-7]. Also known as "Lily of the Mohawks" (1656-1680), she converted to Catholicism at nineteen, and was baptized in honor of St. Catherine of Sienna (1347-1380). Then in 2012, she became the first native American to be declared a saint. Accordingly, some pentatonic spicing gives this movement an American Indian flavor.
In ternary form, it opens with a brooding sustained note [00:00], followed by a wistful, songlike subject [00:04] that permeates its outer sections. These surround a sprightly inner dance episode [01:06-02:34], and conclude the movement with great reverence.
A third Archangel is venerated in "Fantasy on the Hymn to St. Michael (Allegro)" [T-8], where the piece honoring him in the title seems to be a Gregorian Chant. Its melody is the subject of an animated contrivance with martial overtones, presumably reflecting biblical references to his leading God's army against the forces of evil.
Moving back to the New World, we next have "St. André Bessette (with gentle movement)" [T-9]. He was a French-Canadian, lay brother (1845-1937), who was canonized in 2010, and like St. Raphael above [T-4], also identified with healing. His music opens with a gently rocking motif [00:00], followed by a couple of delicate, salubrious themes [00:11 & 00:54]. These ideas alternate with one another, and then the movement comes full circle, ending like it began.
The suite closes, honoring one of the most celebrated saints of all time "Joan of Arc (Largo - Presto)" [T-10]. Also known as "The Maid of Orleans" (1412-1431; see 12 July 2013), her music begins with placid, nostalgic passages [00:01], which turn skittish [01:28], and have a wisp of that Advent hymn "Veni, veni Emmanuel" (VE) [01:58].
These are followed by driving ones, referencing that augur of doom known as the Dies Irae (DI) [02:14], and presumably portend Joan's fiery death. Then all of the foregoing ideas are explored, and a DI-VE-based coda [05:10] ends the suite in a state of religious ecstasy as Joan's soul soars heavenwards.
Guitarist Giovanni De Chiaro's playing in the concerto is heartfelt, and he receives sensitive support from the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) conducted by the composer. The LSO strings under Maestro Poling then go on to give a seraphic account of the suite.
These recordings were done last year in London at a location known as Angel Studios, and project a generous sonic image in warm, reverberant surroundings. The guitar is well captured and balanced against the LSO. As for the instrumental timbre, it's generally good in both works, but there is some occasional steeliness in the upper strings, and a bit of boom in the lower. Consequently, the sound on this disc falls a mite short of demonstration quality.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180226)
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Schumann, Geo.: Sym in f (3rd of 3); Overture to a Drama, "Joy to Life" Overture; Feddeck/BerGer SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
German composer Georg Schumann (1866-1952) makes a welcome fourth appearance in these pages (see 23 February 2015) thanks to CPO's invaluable, ongoing survey of his oeuvre. This time around we get the last of his three unnumbered symphonies, which came after one written as a student in 1885, and another from two years later (1887, see 28 November 2012). It’s accompanied by a couple of delightful overtures, giving us three more of his works heretofore unavailable on disc.
Dating from 1905, and in four movements lasting almost fifty minutes, the informative album notes describe this as his "most monumental instrumental piece". They also observe its structural schema resembles Arnold Schoenberg's (1874-1951) concept of what he called "developing variation".
That said, the opening "Allegro moderato, molto energico" ("Moderately Fast, Very Energetic") [T-1] begins with a drum roll [00:00], subsequent rhythmic spikes in the winds, and the brass intoning an intrepid, portentous motif (IP) [00:09], that will pervade the entire work. IP is then explored, and bridges via swaying passages into a comely songlike melody (CS) [02:30], which becomes the subject of a contemplative duet for winds and strings.
This is followed by an IP-initiated, dramatic development of the foregoing [04:39] that's out of Wagner (1813-1883), and headed towards Mahler (1860-1911). Then IP initiates a recap [07:58], and with the return of CS [08:50], the music turns tranquil. But not for long as bits of IP [12:00] erupt into a coda, which ends the movement tempestuously.
The "Adagio con moto" ("Slowly with Movement") [T-2] opens with the double basses plucking out a sinuous subject (HS) [00:00] that’s a series of notes having an arbitrary angularity like a tone row. It’s succeeded by a sighing phrase for the horns [00:12], which brings Wagner's Tristan und Isolde (1857-9) to mind. Then HS is repeated, and fathers a melancholy melody (HM) for the strings [01:03].
HM is the subject of a developmental meditation [03:23] that leads to an IP-derived, questioning idea for the English horn (IQ) [05:28], which along with bits of HS and HM fosters a tragic episode of Mahlerian proportions. This wanes into the return of HM [10:52], which becomes powerfully optimistic, and the movement ends with nostalgic reminders of IQ [04:21] in addition to HM [14:37].
The scherzo marked "Allegro assai con molto passione" ("Very fast and Passionate") [T-3] begins with an upward, repeated riff [00:00], heralding an IP-related, troubled thematic nexus (IT) [00:04]. The latter is explored, and fuels a succeeding infernal episode [02:15]. This wanes into a sustained note [04:33], over which an IT-affiliated, warm idea appears [04:55], initiating a comely, romantic trio section. The music then transitions into the return of IT [07:44], and the opening measures. But not for long, as pounding drums underscore a big-tune burst of IP in the brass [09:29], followed by a dramatic silence.
Then upward scurrying passages à la Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) and an anticipatory pause launch the finale [T-4] marked "Allegro molto maestoso" ("Fast and Very Majestic") [T-4]. It starts with an IP-sired, heroic melody (IH) [00:00], which powers a commanding march, succeeded by an HM-related (see above), enfolding, second subject (HE) [01:14] somewhat reminiscent of Elgar (1857-1934).
HE surrounds a brief resumption of the march [03:03-04:08], and elicits an imaginative development of IH and HE. Then a subdued, IH-based fugato in the winds announces a recap [05:34], which becomes triumphant, and is followed by a nostalgic reawakening of HE [06:41]. The latter waxes into a magnificent HE-IP-laced coda [08:11] with closing brass and drum flourishes that end the symphony resplendently.
Turning to the companion works, these are not overtures in the usual sense, but short tone poems. However, unlike those of Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and Richard Strauss (1864-1949), they depict emotional states rather than underlying narratives.
The earlier Overture to a Drama (Ouvertüre zu einem drama, 1906) [T-5] opens with a snare drum roll [00:00] and bounding, gallant theme (BG) [00:06], having sharp rhythmic accents [beginning at 00:29]. BG is then briefly examined, and succeeded by an amorous, harp-embellished melody (AH) [01:40] that undergoes a loving contemplation. The latter fosters a third, AH-related, embracing idea (AE) [02:46] again reminiscent of Wagner's Tristan... (see above), and taking all this into consideration, the titular "Drama" might well involve some valiant knight and his lady fair.
Be that as it may, the music then fades into a brief caesura, and soft hints of AE [04:02] undergo a tender development that builds to an amorous climax. This slowly wanes, and after another pause, BG initiates a development [05:42] with an ominous beginning [05:42] that turns comforting with references to AH [07:50] and AE [08:32].
Maybe the foregoing limns an assignation between our knight and his inamorata. However, it's short-lived as the music turns cinematically combative [09:23]. This seems descriptive of him engaging in a fierce conflict to protect his sweetheart. Then reminders of AH [10:49] and a dramatic pause presumably indicate a happy outcome.
But all's not well as ominous BH-related passages [beginning at 12:48] conjure up images of a yet even greater challenge for our hero! Unfortunately, this time around two stabbing chords [13:53 & 13:56] ostensibly signal his demise at the hands of some fiendish assailant, after which a despairing BG-tinged episode [14:02] brings the work to a tragic conclusion.
Starting with a snare drum roll like its predecessor, the later "Joy to Life" Overture (Ouvertüre "Lebensfreude" of 1911 [T-5] is a complete change of pace, which comes off as advertised. Loaded with attractive themes, the first is a carefree, bounding number (CB) [00:02] that briefly frolics about.
It's succeeded by a simple songful melody (SS) [01:08], jolly capricious ditty (JC) [02:18], and demure coquettish tune (DC) [02:58]. Then JC [03;40] announces a rollicking development of the foregoing that smacks of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) tone poem Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; 1894-5).
This transitions into the return of JC [05:05], which introduces some tomfoolery-filled passages, where there are hints of devilry [beginning at 05:27]. But not for long, as the reappearance of DC [06:11] and SS [06:46] with JC in the background, initiate a couple of waggish episodes [07:30 & 08:33].
The last of these transition into a big tune variant of CB [09:10] that gives rise to an SS-related, nostalgic afterthought [10:21]. There are flashes of other past themes, and the music bridges into a CB-introduced recap [11:30], where DC reappears [11:51]. It's followed by a triumphant version of JC [12:27] with brass fanfares [beginning at 12:44] and an amalgam of former ideas. Then a JC-initiated coda [14:00] having more brass flourishes ends the overture in triumphant jubilation.
American-born and trained conductor James Feddeck (b. 1984), makes his CD debut here with the Berlin German Symphony Orchestra (Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin), which some may recall began life as the RIAS Symphony Orchestra back in 1946. He leads it in peerless performances of Georg's music, which testify to Maestro Feddeck's growing reputation as one of today's most up-and-coming, young conductors. Hopefully, he'll soon regale us with more music by other composers who've resided in limbo far too long.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, the recordings were made two years ago at Berlin-Brandenburg Radio's (rbb) pleasantly reverberant Great Broadcasting Hall in Berlin. These are generally serviceable, but depending on your system settings and speaker placement, some may find they project an overly stretched, concave sonic image.
The orchestral timbre is characterized by borderline, edgy highs, and a intermittently dense midrange. As for the low end, it's very clean, but with Georg's conventional scoring, never plumbs the depths.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180225)
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Witte: Pno Qt, Hn Qnt (hn & stg qt); Vlatkovic/Gartemann/Mozart Pno Qt [MD&G (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
The adventurous MD&G label invariably comes up with some of the most interesting releases of undeservedly neglected chamber repertoire (see 31 July 2017), and this new hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), disc featuring works by Netherlands-born, Georg Hendrik Witte (1843-1929), is a real Dutch treat! By way of background, he received his first musical training at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague from 1859 through 1862, and furthered it for the next three years in Leipzig, Germany, where he attended what's now known as the University of Music and Theatre "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy".
After that, Georg pursued a successful musical career as a conductor, teacher and writer in Thann, Alsace, France, and his hometown of Utrecht. Then in 1871 he moved permanently to Essen, Germany, where he held several important posts up until his retirement in 1911.
During his years in Germany, Witte knew and gained the respect of such great composers as Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), Richard Strauss (1864-1949) and Max Reger (1873-1916, see 31 August 2016). He'd also write a modest number of works across all genres, except opera. They include several chamber pieces, and the two here, dating from the Leipzig years, are among his best. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
At almost forty minutes, the Piano Quartet (published in 1867) has four movements. The first is a sonata-form-like construct with a "Moderato assai" ("Very Moderate") [T-1] introduction. This has rising piano passages [00:02] interjected with assertive rhythmic riffs in the strings, which give way to a sinuous, yearning motif (SY) [00:15]. It’s briefly explored, and then the movement turns "Allegro con fuoco" ("Lively with Fire") with an SY-sired, perky ditty (SP) [01:24] that owes a debt to Robert Schumann (1810-1856).
SP is toyed with in passages, where something like the "River Rhine" motif (RR) from Wagner's (1813-1883) Ring Cycle (1853-74) occasionally appears [beginning at 02:02]. Then we get a related, wayward idea (SW) [02:33] that surrounds a bouncy tidbit [03:22-03:36], having hints of SP.
After that, SP returns [03:52] with tinges of RR [beginning at 04:29], there's a brief pause, and SY initiates a captivating development [05:00] of all the foregoing. The latter has more suggestions of RR [beginning at 07:14], and leads to a recap of SP [08:30], SY [08:51], RR [09:06] and SW [09:13]. These color a romping bridge [10:00] into a final coda [10:56] that ends the movement in a burst of joy.
The slow "Sostenuto" ("Sustained") [T-2] is a theme and variations with a melancholy main subject (MM) [00:00] that undergoes seven transformations. The first three are respectively anguished [00:18], pining [02:04], and lachrymose [03:00], where the latter is like a melody in one of Schubert's (1797-1828) sadder lieder.
After that the mood becomes agitated in an RR-derived, fourth variant that starts flamboyantly [03:59] and turns flowing [04:37]. This transitions into a comforting fifth [05:35] that gives way to an excited sixth [08:18]. Then we get a brief seventh [09:04], dramatically prefacing the return of MM [09:39], which ends the movement despairingly.
It couldn't be more different from the subsequent "Vivace" [T-3] that's an exhilarating scherzo with jaunty, SY-related outer sections. They're wrapped around a lovely trio [02:30-04:58] based on a two-part melody, which begins in restrained, heartfelt fashion, and becomes searching.
This movement sets the tone for the closing rondo [T-4] that certainly lives up to its "Allegro giojoso" ("Fast and Joyful") marking. Moreover, it starts with two infectious ideas, which take the form of a darting dance (DD) [00:01] and subsequent gentle lullaby (GL) [00:58]. They may well be Dutch folk melodies, judging by those found in Julius Röntgen's (1858-1932) music (see 31 May 2016).
These are followed by a series of episodes that explore each, beginning with DD. It undergoes a busy treatment [01:35], and becomes the subject of a frenetic fugato [02:47], after which GL returns in romantic passages [04:12]. They surround an outcropping of DD [04:39-05:33], and bridge into a thrilling DD-GL-riddled coda [06:12] that ends the work in manic exuberance.
The Horn Quintet, which was most likely written after the Piano Quartet, is in three movements, whose structures are respectively similar to its first, second and fourth movements. Also, there's a strong Brahms connection! To wit, Georg presumably wrote it not long after the appearance of Johannes' pioneering Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano (1865), which may explain his having sent him a copy of the score for his assessment.
Unfortunately, he opined that the horn part was too subservient to the strings, which at the time may have dissuaded Witte from ever trying to get it published. In retrospect, this seems fair criticism of the opening movement, but not the other two. On that note, reports that Brahms could be very impatient make one wonder if he simply dismissed it after looking at the first one.
That said, the opening sonata-form "allegro appassionato" ("Fast and Passionate") [T-5] is indeed a string thing with the horn playing a subservient, decorative role. The movement begins with a folk-song-like melody (FS) [00:00], which makes a busy transition into an airy, naive countersubject (AN) [01:34] that's contemplated.
Then the foregoing is repeated [02:37], and succeeded by a development [05:33] that leads to nostalgic recap with the return of FS [07:33] and AN [09:09]. This transitions via sequential string passages [10:42] with horn calls [beginning at 10:55] into an FS-initiated, subdued coda [11:10], which ends the movement tranquilly.
The theme and variations "Andante" [T-6] starts with a winding, stygian idea (WS) for the strings [00:00] , which is the subject of seven subsequent transformations, The horn becomes quite predominant in these, beginning with the first [01:18], where it plays a pleading, slightly embellished version of WS. Then we get a troubled second [02:29], agitated third [03:22], and frenetic fourth variant [04:08], which showcase the horn in increasingly difficult, virtuosic passages.
After that the music slows [04:52], bridging into a reverent, hymnlike fifth transformation [05:10], featuring a devout horn [05:56]. Then the mood becomes secular with a skipping, folk dance treatment of WS [07:23]. But not for long as it’s soon followed by a dour, seventh variation [09:29], which closes the movement in despair.
The final "Allegro animato" ("Fast and Animated") [T-7] is a rollicking rondo that puts even greater demands on the soloist. It gets off to a bustling start [00:00], soon followed by a horn-reinforced, infectious, folk idea (IF) [00:09], which like Nixon's (1842-1907) "May Day" (see above), recalls Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) Spring Symphony (No. 1, 1841). IF is then tweaked, repeated [00:35], and followed by the soloist playing a valiant, strutting theme (VS) [00:47].
VS bridges into a comely, minuet-like tune (CM) [01:26], which is briefly examined, and succeeded by an IF afterthought [02:30]. The latter triggers [02:41] an exploration of CM [02:56] that transitions into the return of IF [03:45]. Then there’s a brief pause, and VS reappears [04:02], succeeded by CM [04:13]. The latter takes center stage [04:42] in an episode, which escalates with strong horn support into a thrilling IF-CM coda [05:46] that ends the work smilingly.
The Mozart Piano Quartet (MPQ) makes a triumphant return to these pages (see 30 March 2008), delivering a totally committed, enthusiastic performance of the first work, after which pianist Paul Rivinius presumably goes out for a tall one! Then the MPQ's string players (violinist Mark Gothoni, violist Hartmut Rohde and cellist Peter Hörr) are joined by hornist Radovan Vlatkovic and violinist Cornelia Gartemann for an equally superb account of the Quintet. Bottom line, this little-known Dutch composer couldn't be better represented!
In past reviews we've commented about the superb sound on MD&G's discs (see 31 August 2016), and this one's no exception! The recordings took place at the Concert Hall of a former Benedictine Abbey in Marienmünster, Germany, which was also the venue for MD&G’s Nápravník (1839-1916) release of last summer (see 31 July 2017).
The two stereo tracks project well-proportioned sonic images for ensembles of this size, in warm, accommodating surroundings. Many may find the SACD one somewhat more lifelike, while those having home theater systems, and liking a more open sound, will find the multichannel track gives the music additional breathing space.
The piano and horn are well captured and balanced against the strings, which are ideally placed. As for the overall instrumental timbre, the highs are bright and pleasing, the midrange totally convincing, and bass, clean with no resonant hangover in low string passages. All this makes for a demonstration quality disc.
One last observation, pointy-eared listener’s may detect a mysterious, momentary clicking sound towards the end of the Quartet's first movement [T-1, 08:11], and a muted thud at the beginning of the third [T-3, 02:19].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180224)
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