CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 MARCH 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.
Dompierre: Par quatre chemins (stg qt); Ichmouratov: Stg Qt 4; Brady, T.: Stg Qt 2 "Journal"; NewOrf Qt [ATMA Cl]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Since 2012 three discs with music devoted to Canadian composers have earned CROCKS "Best Find" ratings (see 30 September 2012, 10 June 2014 and 31 October 2015). Now here's a fourth with some works for string quartet by three of their compatriots, and come next year, it may well join the CDs just mentioned. They're the only recordings of these currently available on disc.
The first selection is by François Dompierre (b. 1943), who studied at the Quebec Conservatory in Montreal. Entitled "Par quatre chemins", which is a French idiom meaning "Beat around the bush", it's a captivating, five-movement suite that begins with a harried hornpipe ("I. Hornpipe tripatif") [T-1].
This is a ternary, A-B-A offering with jaunty "A" sections. They surround a mischievous "B" [02:16-03:53], which hints at that busy theme in Paul Dukas' (1865-1935) The Sorcerer's Apprentice (1897).
Then there's a crestfallen cantilena ("II. Cantilène spleené") [T-2] that has a gloomy introduction, and bridges [01:41] into an apprehensive, pizzicato-spiced episode [02:05]. But after a brief pause, an intensely anguished version of the opening [03:06] concludes the movement in total despair.
On a lighter note, we next get a motile musette ("III. Musette comique") [T-3]. This is an accelerating waltz based on a fickle tune that whirls through a variety of keys, finally coming to rest in the one it began. Then a proud pavane ("IV. Pavane solitaire") [T-4] conjures up images of a vane, strutting peacock, displaying all its extravagant plumage.
The work closes with a spellbound scherzo ("V. Scherzo hachuré") [T-5]. Here François takes a lesson from Vincent d'Indy (1851-1931) in that like his Istar (1896; see 25 April 2010), it's a theme and variations in reverse, where the main idea doesn't appear until the end.
This begins with sequentially agitated [00:00], playful [00:48], searching [01:33], and amorous [02:13] episodes that hint at what’s to come. Then we get the subject theme [03:23], which is a slow yearning melody that ends this elegant work compassionately.
The next selection is by a composer with a Russian connection. Airat Ichmouratov (b. 1973) hails from Kazan, where he first studied music. Then in 1997 he met Soviet-born, Canadian cellist-conductor Yuli Turovsky (1939-2013), who became his mentor, which resulted in Airat's moving permanently to Montreal in 1998. He continued his studies there, getting a Masters degree as well as a Doctorate in 2005, and has since become a highly acclaimed conductor-composer, who's penned a significant body of works.
He says his Fourth String Quartet of 2012 was inspired by the death of Turovsky's wife. Hence, this is a commemorative piece, whose subtitle "Time and Fate" refers to the two main thematic ideas present. In four Roman-numeral-marked movements, "I." [T-6] begins with the "Time" motif, which is a rhythmically catchy thematic nexus (TM) [00:00]. The composer associates this with one's "life clock" inexorably ticking away, and it will appear throughout the work.
TM is soon followed by a melancholy "Fate" motif (FM) [00:26], and the two bridge into a consummate development [02:15]. Here they intertwine, transitioning into an FM-based, contemplative episode [03:14], and a TM-initiated, ticking recap [05:06]. The latter is laced with hints of FM [beginning at 06:06] that become increasingly dominant, and after a dramatic pause, the movement ends excitedly.
Airat serves up a captivating serenade in "II." [T-7], which is a brace of conjoined, TM-FM-related waltzes [00:00 & 02:46]. But there's a complete change of mood with "III." [T-8] that's the longest movement here. It's a lament based on FM, and a moving tribute to the memory of someone the composer says was like a second mother to him.
The concluding "IV." [T-9] is a sassy scherzo, having cheeky, TM reminiscent outer sections spiked with a flippant version of FM [02:37]. They surround a trio [03:48-04:24], which is none other than the second waltz in "II." (see above). Considering the circumstances that inspired this work, the music seems like a tribute to the human spirit in the face of great adversity. Be that as it may, it ends the quartet on an upbeat, hopeful note.
Last but not least there's a work by guitarist-composer Tim Brady (b. 1956), who first studied in his hometown of Montreal at Concordia University (1975-8), and then attended the New England Conservatory of Music (1978-80), Boston, Massachusetts. He's since composed over 100 works across all genres and known for his highly imaginative writing that's a synthesis of 20th century musical styles.
What we have here is the Second String Quartet of 2013, where minimalism plays a dominant role. However, there's a rhythmic drive and vibrancy that preclude it from becoming one of those mind-numbing exercises many associate with that school of music.
In seven conjoined sections, the composer says they're meant to proceed like pages in a diary, and he’s accordingly titled this, "Journal" [T-10]. No underlying storyline is given, but in hopes of giving you a better idea of how it sounds, we'll make one up as we go along.
That said, the opening section [00:00] gets off to an anxious start with busy figurations, having air-raid-siren-like, downward glissandi [beginning at 00:32]. Consequently it's easy to imagine Brady's diarist rushing to a bomb shelter.
Then a wailing second section [03:30] would seem to give the "all-clear", and nervous strumming third [05:15], the emergence of our supposed writer. Going on this premise, the highly agitated next segment [07:37] seemingly limns a scene of utter destruction, after which there's a weeping lament [10:49] that turns haunting [11:47].
Subsequently, we get a sixth section, which begins imploringly [13:48] with a theme that could be interpreted as the diarist asking, "Why all this?" Then agitated, protesting passages and a declaratory idea (DI) [16:19] seem to say "No more!"
Unfortunately, man's inherent, belligerent nature prevails, and the work’s frenetic opening mood returns in the concluding seventh section [16:59]. However, this time around there are a couple of DI interjections [17:14 & 18:03], but to no avail as the music resumes its hectic pace, and the Journal ends distressingly just like it began.
The members of the Canadian-based New Orford String Quartet (NOSQ) once again distinguish themselves (see 10 November 2014) with rousing performances of all three selections. Moreover, sensitive, heartfelt playing characterizes their readings of the first two pieces, while the NOSQ's technical prowess and exquisite ensemble sound come to the fore in Brady's demanding score.
Made last year in Saint-Augustin Church, Quebec, Canada, the recordings present a broad, deep sonic image in reverberant surroundings. All four strings are beautifully captured, yielding a richly proportioned sound that will appeal to those liking chamber music discs with symphonic aura.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180331)
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Gade, N.: Comala (Dramatic Poem for Soloists, Chorus & Orchestra); Soloists/DanNa CnC&O [Danacord]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
It's been a while since Danish composer Niels Gade (1817-1890) has appeared in these pages (see 18 April 2011), but you'll find it was well worth the wait with this new Dacapo release featuring his secular cantata, Comala. By way of reminder, he was a good friend of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), and even succeeded him as conductor of the famed Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Consequently, there are reminders of Felix throughout the work.
What's more, like his Hebrides Overture (aka Fingal's Cave, 1829-32) and Scottish Symphony (No. 3, 1842), Gade's piece was inspired by Scottish writer James Macpherson's (1736-1796) poems. These are based on epics by the Celtic bard Ossian (12th C.), who was the son of legendary, Warrior King Fingal (12th C.).
Composed in Leipzig during 1845-6, it's set to a German libretto by a friend of Gade's (see the album notes for Danish, English and German texts), which adheres closely to the Macpherson. More specifically, the story centers around Fingal and his intended, the beautiful maiden Comala.
The work opens with a brief, portentous prelude [T-1] with some themes Niels borrowed from his earlier concert overture titled Echoes of Ossian (1840-1). The music augurs the unhappy outcome of this story, but is soon offset by a rousing martial, men's chorus [T-2]. Here warriors and bards extol King Fingal's bravery, and prepare to follow him into battle.
It’s succeeded by a gorgeous duet for him and Comala [T-3], where he colorfully vows to vanquish the enemy. On the other hand, she expresses fears he’ll be killed, and suggests life would no longer be worth living without him, which lays the ground work for this tragedy.
Then there's a thrilling warrior's chorus [T-4] as they march off to do battle with an invading Danish army. It’s followed by a moving ensemble number [T-5], in which Comala expresses dark thoughts brought on by Fingal's departure. But her handmaidens Dersagrena and Melicoma accompanied by other lady servants try to console her as they sing a winsome, folkish ballade [T-6], having a colorful harp-embellished accompaniment.
After that, nightfall and an approaching storm get Comala imagining all sorts of dark scenarios regarding Fingal [T-7]. Despite attempts by her attendants to calm her, she becomes increasingly agitated, and frightens them away.
Then as that tempest draws near, our heroine really goes off the deep end [T-8]! In its path, she sees spirits of the dead carrying off fallen heroes to the Scottish equivalent of Valhalla. These include Fingal, which is cause for her to sing a moving aria of farewell [T-9], and expire from grief.
The next section begins with a mournful, "hornful" orchestral preface [T-10] that builds into a stirring march of triumph as the warriors return, extolling Fingal's victory over the enemy. But elation soon turns to bereavement as Comala's ladies tell them of her death [T-11].
Then Fingal enters, asking why they're so sorrowful, when he's just won a great victory. They tell him what's happened, and he mourns her death, which leads to a lament intoned by him along with the Bards and Maidens [T-12]. In it he invokes all to sing a song of praise to Comala, soon to reside in paradise.
After that the work ends with a stirring, poetically worded finale [T-13], where all join together envisioning rays of the moon bearing Comala's soul seemingly heavenwards. Here the composer outdoes himself, and lovers of Mendelssohn's oratorios (1836-42) won’t want to be without this rarity!
Our soloists are soprano Marie-Adeline Henry (Comala), mezzo Rachel Kelly (Dersagrena), alto Elenor Wiman (Melicoma), and baritone Markus Eiche (Fingal). All are in top form, and receive superb support from the Danish National Concert Choir and Symphony Orchestra under French conductor Laurence Equilbey. Together they deliver a magnificent account of this undeservedly forgotten score. Taken from live performances, there's also a vibrancy, which turns music that in lesser hands might be ordinary fare, into a highly memorable listening experience.
The recording site was the Danish National Radio's Koncerthuset (Concert Hall), Copenhagen. Adept postproduction touch-ups and editing preclude any extraneous audience noise or applause. What’s more, careful microphone placement coupled with skillful mixing assure a good balance between soloists, chorus and orchestra. All of this gives rise to a wide sonic image in reverberant surrounding, which will appeal to those liking a "wetter" sound.
As for the overall sound, it’s characterized by pleasant highs, except for some digital grain in choral passages, and a slightly recessed midrange. The bass is lean and clean except for a couple of low level thumps between tracks, which seem edit-related.
Considering all the foregoing, this CD falls somewhat short of demonstration quality. However, as we've noted before with other classical rarities such as this, we’re lucky to have what's here!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180330)
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Krcek: Ob Conc, Vn Conc, 3 Dances in..., Film Ste The Secret…; Soloists/Krcek/MusBohPrag/Warchal/SlovCh O [ArcoD]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
A few weeks ago Bohemian-born Roland Leistner-Mayer (b. 1945; see 31 January 2018) made his first appearance in these pages. And now we're happy to welcome a compatriot of his, conductor-composer Jaroslav Krcek (b. 1939). He hails from Ceské Budejovice that’s about ninety miles south of Prague, and where Budweiser Beer got its start back in the 13th century.
Unlike Roland who studied and now works in Germany, Jaroslav attended the Prague Conservatory, and has since pursued a distinguished career in the Czech Republic. He's one of that country's most active composers and has devoted a great deal of time to folk-related efforts as well as writing music for the concert hall.
This recent Arco Diva release gives us four captivating samples of his orchestral fare, these being the only recording currently available on disc. You'll find Czech and Slovak folk music a frequent source of inspiration in them.
The program opens with Concerto for Oboe of 2016, which is the newest work here, and latest of several he's written for his wife, oboist Gabriela Krcková, who's our soloist. In three movements, the first marked "Pastoral" [T-1] starts with shimmering strings [00:01] and a blithe, rustic theme (BR) played by the flute [00:03].
Then the oboe makes an agitated entrance, after which the clarinet picks up on BR [00:59]. A couple of contemplative passages for Gabriela and the orchestra follow [01:21] that may bring to mind Martinu's (1890-1959) Oboe Concerto (1955). These lead to a curt cadenza [03:30], and the reappearance of the tutti [03:42], who conclude the movement nostalgically with a final reminder of BR [03:59].
A middle "Moderato - Allegretto" ("Moderate - Lively") [T-2] begins with dark, searching passages for the orchestra [00:00] that's soon joined by a sorrowful, descanting oboe [00:44]. Then there's a brief lament, which is suddenly interrupted by some antsy pizzicato in the lower strings as the music shifts into high gear [01:35].
This change of pace enlivens the soloist, who with tutti support launches into a perky offering [01:50] that leads to a wistful, demanding cadenza [02:49]. The subsequent return of the orchestra [03:46] and a now saddened oboe then ends the music in the same spirit it began.
The closing "Lento - Allegro" ("Slow - Fast") [T-3] is a theme and variations with a tutti introduction [00:00] that’s pervaded by a sense of doom. It augurs the main subject, which seems folk-derived, and takes the form of a dejected idea soon intoned by the oboe (FD) [01:53].
A couple of sad variants follow, after which there's a brief pause, and the music turns saucy with the orchestra playing a cocky version of FD (FC) [03:56]. Not to be outdone, the soloist gives us a colorful dancelike rendering of FC [04:29] that's then picked up by the tutti. They’re briefly interrupted by a concluding, piquant cadenza [05:28], but return with an even jazzier version of FC [06:06], which ends the work with a perfunctory grin.
Turning to the oldest work on this CD, we get Jaroslav's Concerto for Violin of 1979. In a single, fifteen-minute span [T-4], he tells us this is a meditative, farewell tribute to one of his teachers, Miloslav Kabelác (1908-1979).
It gets off to a folksy start! Moreover, we first hear what sounds like one of those large Slovak shepherd's pipes known as the fujara, playing a restive dance ditty (RD) [00:00] to an intermittent, jumpy accompaniment. Then the music becomes melancholy [00:26], and the soloist enters playing a sad, extended idea (SE) [00:38].
Next, the return of RD initiates an intriguing, variational development [01:56] with a diversity of RD-SE-related segments embellished by the violin. These include a lachrymose cadenza [06:13], and troubled afterthought for all [06:51]. Then RD [07:17] and a wiry subsequent segment, give way to a series of contemplative passages for soloist and tutti [beginning at 07:55].
After a brief pause, there's a twirling dance episode, which starts unassumingly [09:53] but becomes increasing agitated, only to suddenly end. It's succeeded by a brief pause, and last cadenza [11:37] that begins in subdued fashion, but turns frenetic as the orchestra once more joins the fray. The music then proceeds in fits-and-starts with concluding hints of SE [13:06], and the subsequent reappearance of RD [13:55], which closes the concerto in lively, rustic fashion.
Moving right along we get a set of Three Dances in the Old Style of 1983. Originally scored for string and percussion, what we have here is a recording taken from a 1986 concert featuring an expanded arrangement for two separate, chamber orchestras, each under their respective conductors. The ensembles are positioned to left and right, which results in a captivating interplay between them, somewhat harkening back to Handel's (1685-1759) Concerti Grossi (1715-39).
The first number is marked "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-5] and in ternary, A-B-A form with jolly "A" sections along the lines of Janácek's (1854-1928) Moravian Dances (1888). They surround an austere, related "B" [02:02-03:12] and end this much like it began.
Then we get a ternary "Andante" ("Flowing") [T-6] dance. The "A"s here feature a couple of proud, piquant tunes in the winds that include what sounds like an Eastern European pan flute [00:19]. They embrace a comely "B", which is a lyrically flowing idea played by the strings [01:31-03:12], and bring the dance full circle.
The third one marked "Tempo di polonaise - Vivo" ("Polonaise speed - Lively") [T-7] starts off as a haughty string thing [00:00]. Then the music becomes more animated [01:32] with wind plus percussion colorations and ends this delightful dance set capriciously.
Filling out the CD, we have a six-part Film Suite the composer distilled from music he wrote for a movie based on a Lusatian-Sorbian fable titled The Secret of the Old Mill (no further details available at this time). The initial "Uvod - Cesta" ("Introduction - The way") [T-8], which is another ternary offering (see above), has a fairy-tale-sounding "A" (FT) [00:00] on either side of a chugging, rustic, dance-like "B" [00:45-01:29].
The next "Boufe - Noc" ("Storm - Night") [T-9] is at first tempestuous, and then after a flash of lightning [00:19], soporific. On the other hand, "Strach - Sneni" ("Fear - Dreaming") [T-10] is a queasy number featuring what sounds like one of those Czech bagpipes called a bock. And then there's "Komedianti" ("The comedians") [T-11] which is a totally infectious dance ditty (ID) scored for folk instruments [00:00].
The subsequent "Na trhu" ("At the market") [T-12] begins like a punctilious, Baroque minuet [00:00] along the lines of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) G major one (BWV 114) in his Anna Magdalena Notebook (1722-25). But after a brief pause, the music becomes spooky [00:48], eventually turning childlike and jolly [01:59].
Concluding the Suite, there's "Kouzelná kniha - Nový milýn" ("The magic book - The new mill") [T-13], which opens with a mystically fleeting segment [00:00], succeeded by a reminder of FT (see above) [01:09]. But the best is yet to come as Krcek ends this delightful folk frolic with another ID-like number [01:50] that’s a real “play it again, Sam” selection.
The Musica Bohemica Prague (MBP) conducted by the composer is the featured ensemble on this release. Along with oboist Gabriela Krcková (see above) and violinist Lenka Koubaková Torgensen, they deliver splendid performances of the opening concertos and go on to give a captivating account of the Film Suite.
Maestro Krcek and the MBP are joined by the Slovak Chamber Orchestra (SCO) under Bohdan Warchal for Three Dances.... The resultant, engaging repartee between these two superb ensembles makes for some Bohemian-Moravian-spiced music that bears repeated listening.
These recordings were done over the past thirty years at four different locations. However, the instrumental timbre is amazingly consistent throughout them. It’s generally characterized by light, sparkling highs, a well-defined midrange, and lean, clean bass.
Film Suite and Oboe Concerto, dating from 2003 and 2017 respectively, were made at the Domovina Studio, Prague. They present a comfortably up-front, broad sonic image in warm accommodating surroundings, where there's no feeling of confinement. The oboe is well captured and balanced against the MBP.
The Violin Concerto is of 1998 vintage and done in Lichtenstein Palace, Prague, Czech Republic. This location is understandably more reverberant, and the music is all the richer for it. Here the soloist is convincingly captured and highlighted against the MBP.
As for the set of Three Dances..., the recording dates from 1986 and was made at the Reduta Concert Hall in Bratislava, Slovak Republic. Here the MBP and SCO were positioned on opposite sides of the concert stage, which in this capacious venue results in an exceptionally wide, but conjoint soundstage in warm, comfortably reverberant surroundings. Although it was taken from a live performance, good microphone placement, as well as skillful postproduction touch-up and editing preclude any extraneous audience noise or applause.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180329)
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Price, F.: Vn Concs 1 & 2; Cockerham: Before, It was Golden (vn & stg orch); Kahng/Cockerham/Janá PO [Albany]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Six years have gone by since Albany Records gave us that trailblazing disc of orchestral music by African-American woman composer Florence Beatrice Price (née Smith, 1887-1953; see 8 February 2012). Now this adventurous label follows up with her two violin concertos, plus an additional concertante work for that instrument by our conductor, Texas-born, British-educated Ryan Cockerham (birthdate unknown). They're the only recordings of these works currently available on disc.
By way of reminder Florence was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and moved as a teenager to Boston, where she studied at the New England Conservatory of Music with George Chadwick (1854-1931) and Frederick Converse (1871-1940; see 8 February 2012). After graduation in 1907, she took up teaching positions at home and in Atlanta, Georgia, until 1927. Then Price and her family moved to Chicago, where she spent the rest of her life.
During the early 1930s, her music met with considerable success in the "Windy City". But after that, performances of it became increasingly rare.
Attempts by her daughter to revive it were generally unsuccessful, and after she died in 1975, her mother’s later unpublished manuscripts, which included the concertos on this release, were thought to be lost. But fortunately, sometime around 2009 a couple of property renovators discovered them in an abandoned house.
The three-movement Concerto No. 1 (1939) opens with a rhapsodic "Tempo moderato" [T-2]. This has a tuneful orchestral introduction à la Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), followed by flourishes for the soloist [00:52], and together they play an attractive lyrical theme (AL) [01:10].
AL is contemplated in a series of episodes of varying mood that have frequent virtuosic, flights of fancy for the violin, which include a demanding cadenza [07:55-08:56]. Then the ghost of Tchaikovsky returns in a frenetic passage [12:03] that ends the movement flamboyantly.
Price was also an accomplished organist, and it shows in the beginning of the ternary, A-B-A, "Andante" [T-3]. Moreover, its "A" sections feature an organlike, hymn tune introduced by the soloist that brings to mind Negro spirituals [00:37]. They surround a gently swaying "B" [03:04-04:40] and end the movement with a feeling of pastoral piety.
The closing “Allegro” [T-4] is a rollicking rondo. It starts with spikey passages for all [00:00], followed by an ursine bassoon tune [00:24] and antic violin ditty [01:03]. The latter fuels some virtuosically colored recurring segments that end this too-long-forgotten treasure with a joyful "So there!"
A year before she died, Price completed her Second Violin Concerto (1952), which is in one continuous movement, and opens with a rousing orchestral introduction [00:00]. This has a couple of three-note, descending phrases for the piano [00:10 & 00:12], whose frequent appearances throughout the score recall the keyboard continuo present in Baroque concertos.
Then the soloist enters, and there are passages [00:37] with tutti support that coalesce into a winsome, rhapsodic thematic nexus (N1) [beginning at 01:26]. This is followed by a second group of ideas (N2) [03:36] based on a romantic opening motif. Oddly enough, Richard Rodgers' (1902-1979) melody for the song "Climb Ev'ry Mountain", which first appeared in the Broadway show The Sound of Music (1959), may come to mind here (RM) [03:45].
Next, N1 and N2 undergo several transformations of varying temperament, the first being an excited offering [04:55] with virtuosic violin moments. It leads to a dreamy treatment [06:46] that recalls RM [07:00] and makes a pastoral transition into an episode of martial demeanor [08:18]. The latter then gives way to gentle, swaying passages [09:19] with substantial trumpet work, and another touch of RM [09:50].
These lead to a bridging section [11:17], where tidbits of N2 and N1 become increasingly excited. They trigger a heroic segment [11:45] that builds into a big tune reminder of RM [12:54], which then peacefully fades away. But after a dramatic pause, Florence surprises us with an exuberant coda [13:52], ending the work jubilantly.
The concert closes with a curious, Cockerham concoction bearing the enigmatic title Before, It was Golden. A cross between an unaccompanied sonata and a concerto, this dates from 2016, and is in nine sections. These are alternately for the violin alone and with a string orchestra accompaniment. What's more, there's a palindromic feel about them as the last four are stylistically similar to the first, but in reverse order.
The composer suggests the piece is a "private ritual", with the soloist "in search of true spiritual meaning". Accordingly, the beginning "Invocation" [T-5] is a series of questioning pizzicato-spiced passages for the violin.
This is followed by seven sections whose titles include the word "Hymn", the first two being marked "Hymn 1- Prelude" (H1-1) [T-6] and "Hymn 1 - Verse" (H1-2) [T-7]. These respectively take the form of a contemplation for string orchestra, and an antic, cadenza-like passage played by the fiddle with a touch of encouragement from the tutti [01:31-02:03].
They're succeeded by "Hymn 2 - Prelude" (H2-1) [T-8] and "Hymn 2 - Verse" (H2-2) [T-9]. The first of these has shimmering upper strings, over organ-like pedal points in the lower ones. Then the soloist returns for H2-2, which is a manic, litanic evocation, and the pivot point for this palindrome-like creation.
Accordingly, "Hymn 2 - Postlude" [T-10] for string orchestra closely resembles H2-1, and is immediately succeeded by "Hymn 3 - Verse" [T-11] with the fiddle playing a pensive variant of H1-2. Then we get "Hymn 3 - Postlude" [T-12], where the strings intone an introspective offering akin to H1-1. And finally, bringing things full circle, there's "Closure" [T-13], which is a violin epilogue, recalling the initial "Invocation". This ends the work with the soloist still in search of something.
American violinist Er-Gene Kahng gives technically accomplished, sensitive interpretations of these scores, which call for a variety of fiddle special effects. She's given outstanding support from conductor-composer Ryan Cockerham and the Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra (JPO).
These studio recordings were made last year at an unidentified location in Ostrava, Czech Republic. They project a wide, but well-focused sonic image in a warm, reverberant acoustic, and should appeal to those liking a "wetter" sonics.
The balance between soloist and orchestra is generally good, but one could wish for a bit more highlighting of the violin to better show off Ms. Kahng's immaculate playing. As for the overall instrumental timbre, it's characterized by bright, occasionally steely highs, a pleasant midrange and clean bass.
Taking all the foregoing into consideration as well as a couple of less than ideal edit spots, the release falls a bit short of demonstration quality. However, any sonic shortcomings will soon be forgotten with music this appealing.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180328)
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Schelb: Orch Wks V1 (Movimento, Music for Orch 3, Music for Orch 4); Mann/Liep SO, Baleff/BB P [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Born in Freiburg, Germany, Josef Schelb (1894-1977) first studied music with Hans Huber (1852-1921; see 22 March 2012) in Basel, Switzerland, and later moved to Geneva for further training. He'd subsequently begin his career as a concert pianist, playing throughout Europe and overseas.
Then in 1924 Josef took important teaching positions in Karlsruhe, which except for the World War II years (1939-45), would last until 1957. After that he'd move about seventy miles southwest to Baden-Baden, where he'd spend the rest of his productive life, and devote himself entirely to composition.
He created a significant body of works across all genres. However, almost all written up to 1942 were destroyed in an Allied bombing raid on Karlsruhe. But with the substantial number that followed, some 150 have come down to us. They reveal an au courant composer with a changing style that encompassed elements of impressionism, expressionism, neoclassicism and even twelve-tone technique.
This new Toccata release begins their survey of his orchestral works with three selections he completed in his middle-to-upper seventies. Generally speaking there's a Gebrauchsmusik ("utility music") practicality about this music, which makes it more intellectually than emotionally appealing. They’re all premiere recordings, and the only versions currently available on disc.
While these pieces are immediately accessible, there are detailed analyses of them in the album documentation that are required reading to appreciate their many subtleties. And on that note, we'll limit ourselves here to some general comments about them.
Schleb wrote three independent, through-composed pieces for orchestra, which he called Movimenti, and our concert opens with his fifteen-minute Movimento I of 1969 [T-1]. Maybe the others (dates unknown, and currently unavailable on disc) will appear in later Toccata installments.
This one here has a smoldering preface (SP) [00:01] that bursts into a neoclassical nexus (NN) [00:25] with rhythmically stabbing riffs. NN gives way to pensive passages (PP) [01:06] with a recurring heuristic phrase (HP) [beginning at 01:12] strangely reminiscent of Charles Ives' (1874-1954) The Unanswered Question (1906). Then NN and PP fuel a convoluted, colorfully scored developmental arch.
It's followed by a haunting, march-like episode [05:57], which waxes and wanes into an SP-like episode [11:28]. After that there's an animated segment [13:11] with bizarre piano embellishments [14:19], chortling woodwinds [14:41], pounding timpani [15:11] and chanting brass [15:28], bringing the piece to a definitive ending.
There are five numbered works by this composer that he simply referred to as Music for Orchestra. Comprised of three sections each, which he called "parts", they're in essence three-movement symphonies. While the first two and last and last of these (dates unknown) have never appeared on disc, the third and fourth from 1972 fill out this release.
Music for Orchestra No. 3 begins "Ruhig, doch fliessend" ("Tranquil, but Flowing") [T-2] with a hushed preface, hinting at an ominous, domineering idea (OD) soon to come. Then there's a liquid, winding theme (LW) introduced by the woodwinds [00:31], after which OD appears full blown in the brass [01:16].
LW and OD are extensively explored in a rigorous, episodic development [02:00] with sporadic martial moments. This gives way to an LW-initiated recap [07:14], where there are hints of OD lurking in the background [beginning at 08:20]. But LW prevails, ending this "part" serenely.
A "Sehr lebhaft" ("Very Lively") scherzo based on OD-LW-related motifs follows [T-3]. It's an engaging diversion, in which respectively combative and playful passages alternate with one another.
Josef concludes the work with a "Thema mit Variationen" ("Theme and Variations") [T-4]. This has an OD reminiscent martial introduction [00:00], soon followed by an aloof main subject, having LW overtones. Five brisk variations come next [beginning at 01:05], and then a longer, regal, sixth transformation [04:08]. This builds and fades into a commanding seventh [06:14], succeeded by a concluding coda, which begins mischievously [06:36], and ends the work with a leering grin.
Closing out this disc, there's Music for Orchestra No. 4, whose first "part" is marked "Bewegt" ("Moving") [T-5]. It opens with an extended, impressionistic, searching subject (IS) [00:01], having a melancholy motif (IM) [beginning at 00:10] that will pervade the piece. IS then undergoes a number of transformations in three sequential groups of varying mood. The initial one [01:31] is extroverted and peripatetic, while the next [05:28] takes on a withdrawn, contemplative character. After that an anxious, agitated third [08:23] brings this "part" to an exciting conclusion.
A sense of despair pervades the subsequent "Sehr breit" ("Very Wide") [T-6] right from its anguished opening [00:00]. There's something of Hindemith's (1895-1963) darker moments throughout this as the music builds to a couple of grief-stricken, IM-infected [beginning at 01:07] climaxes, and then fades despondently.
The final "Bewegt" ("Moving") [T-7] gets off to an anxious start with a capricious thematic nexus [00:00]. This gives rise to giddy, pastoral passages that are inexorably pushed aside by martial, aggressive ones. In the process, our old friend IM reappears [beginning at 05:07], eventually powering a final coda [07:25], whereby the composer ends his fourth Music with stark finality.
That champion of overlooked orchestral curiosities, Paul Mann (see 28 February 2018) gets engaging accounts of the two works from the Liepaja Symphony Orchestra (LSO). Schelb's stylistically diverse music turns on a dime, and Maestro Mann's attention to phrasing as well as rhythmic detail brings out all its nuances.
The recordings were made in 2017 at the Great Amber Concert Hall, Liepaja, Latvia, and project a wide but somewhat distant sonic image in an affable venue. The instrumental timbre is characterized by pinched highs and mids but lean, clean bass. Depending on your system configuration and/or settings, some may find the sound skewed a bit left, and want to tweak their balance controls accordingly.
The last selection is served up by Bulgarian conductor Pavel Baleff and the superb Baden-Baden Philharmonic. His interpretation of Schelb's music seems somewhat broader than Mann's, but never loses that inherent feeling of detached spontaneity, which characterizes this composer’s oeuvre.
The recording dates from 2014 and was made by German Südwestrundfunk (SWR, "Southwest Broadcasting"). It was taken from a live performance at the Weinbrennersaal, which is part of the Kurhaus complex in Baden-Baden (see above). However, ideal microphone placement, as well as what must have been skillful postproduction touch-ups and editing preclude any extraneous audience noise or applause. What's more, the orchestra is beautifully captured over the entire frequency spectrum across a broad soundstage in an enriching acoustic.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180327)
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Fuchs, R.: Stg Qts Cpte (4); Minguet Qt [MD&G]
AUDIOPHILE (2 CDs)
As we've told you before, CLOFO is Robert Fuchs (1847-1927) country (see 31 October 2017), and here's an MD&G "twofer" with his four completed string quartets. They were released in 2000 and 2001 on two separate CDs, which have long since disappeared. However, those who missed out on them, can now have all for the price of one.
Having appeared almost twenty years ago, there's a considerable amount of readily available reference material about these already out there, so this commentary will be kept to a minimum. They remain the only recordings currently available on disc.
Robert wrote around 150 works that after 1894 were mostly in the chamber category. Those include the ones here, each of which is in four movements. The First Quartet (1895) begins with an "Allegro passionato" ("Fast and passionate") [D-1, T-1] that one reviewer found "all-too-brooding" and lethargic. But by today's standards, this is lovely, glowing music that brings to mind subdued passages in Brahms' (1833-1897) later string quartets and quintets (1865-1890).
There's a complete change of mood with the succeeding "Allegretto scherzando" ("Lively and playful") [D-1, T-2], which is much as advertised. A rustic folkish offering, its outer dancelike sections bracket an attractive, rocking lullaby [02:42-04:12], and bring the movement to an unexpected conclusion.
Then there's an exquisite, sinuous "Andante grazioso" ("Gracefully flowing") [D-1, T-3] with some middle, modulatory machinations [01:37-03:07]. It couldn't be more different from the "Allegro con fuoco" ("Lively with fire") marked finale [D-1, T-4]. This is a saucy scherzo having a mischievous recurring theme (MR) [00:03], and recalls the mood of the opening. MR is offset by a lyrical countermelody [01:05] that eventually becomes the basis for a cheeky coda [03:13], which closes the work excitedly.
Four years later Fuchs completed his Second Quartet (1899), and generally speaking, it's a more sophisticated creation. The initial "Allegro moderato ma energico" ("Moderately fast, but energetic") [D-1, T-5] is in sonata form with a forceful opening statement [00:00]. Then there's a deft development [04:29], thrilling recapitulation [06:47] and rousing coda [08:46].
The following "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [D-1, T-6] is a moving, delicate serenade based on a lilting theme that recalls subdued moments in its predecessor. Then Robert gives us an elegant "Tempo di Menuetto" ("Minuet time") [D-1, T-7]. which sets the tone for another sonata form movement, this time marked "Allegretto grazioso" ("Lively, but graceful") [D-1, T-8]. It brings the work to a sublime conclusion, making one wonder why the quartet isn’t better known.
Many may find Fuchs' Third Quartet of 1903 his best effort in the genre. The first "Allegro molto moderato e grazioso" ("Fast, but very moderate and graceful") [D-2, T-5] starts with a winsome, winding tune (WW) [00:00], succeeded by a related, melancholy idea (WM) [01:32]. The two are repeated [02:43] and followed by a tender development [04:44]. Then there's a welcome recap [07:45], and WW-WM-based coda [10:08], ending the movement peacefully.
The next "Allegro vivace" ("Lively and vivacious") [D-2, T-6] is a rondo-like scherzo, that starts with a fleeting ditty (FD) [00:00] and waltzlike theme (WT) [01:31]. Then we get a questioning version of FD (FQ) [02:56] and lyricized WT (WL) [04:03]. After that, WT and FQ return sequentially [06:13 & 07:41], succeeded by an WL-based coda [08:55], bringing things to a definitive conclusion.
All this scampering around is followed by an affecting "Adagio molto e con sentimento" ("Very slow and with feeling") [D-2, T-7], which is a melodic masterpiece you'll not soon forget. But the best is yet to come in the "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with spirit") finale [D-2, T-8]. Here Robert delivers his most infectious music yet in the form of a rollicking sonata-rondo with unifying bits of past motifs. It adds the crowning touch to this consummately constructed work.
Coming thirteen years later, the Fourth Quartet (1916) manifests that confident, creative flow of ideas, typifying late works of accomplished composers. The initial "Allegro molto moderato, quasi allegretto" ("Moderately fast, and somewhat joyful") [D-2, T-1] is in textbook sonata form, and has an opening statement with two folklike ideas. Respectively hopping (FH) [00:00] and songlike (FS) [00:59], they undergo a chromatically cursive development [02:01]. Then there's a classic recapitulation [03:34], having an FH-related coda [05:02], which ends things with a smile.
The arresting outer sections of the succeeding "Allegro vivace" ("Lively and vivacious") scherzo [D-2, T-2] are based on a fetching thematic nexus and embrace a lovely trio. This is a lilting cantilena featuring the cello (CC) [02:36-05:37] and may bring FS to mind. Then the movement closes sedately with wisps of CC [beginning at 08:04].
Next, there's an A-B-A "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [D-2, T-3], whose "A"s feature a delicate, undulating theme [00:01] that shows Fuchs at the height of his melodic powers. They surround a troubled "B" [02:31-04:15], and end the movement sublimely, providing a brief respite before the antic finale.
Marked "Andantino-Allegro" ("Leisurely-Lively") [D-2, T-4], it's a sonata-rondo that starts deceptively with a serene introduction [00:00], hinting at a romantic, yearning idea (RY) that will soon coalesce. In the meantime, we get an arresting, capricious tune (AC) [01:04], which is tossed about.
Finally RY emerges full-blown [01:54], after which AC triggers a spirited development [02:39] and subsequent recap [04:14] that includes the return of RY [05:05]. Then brief pauses surround a nostalgic RY afterthought [06:25-07:03], and an AC-based coda [07:04] finishes this infectious offering in frisky fashion.
The members of the Cologne-based Minguet Quartet (see 31 August 2016) distinguish themselves with uniformly, articulate, sensitive accounts of this rare repertoire. They make a strong case for some romantic chamber music that's been overlooked far too long.
The recordings were made at the Castle Nordkirchen Orangery in Germany, and present an ideally proportioned, well-focused sonic image in warm, accommodating surroundings. What’s more, the string tone is lifelike with natural highs, a pleasing midrange, and well-articulated bass, all of which contribute to a rich ensemble sound. Consequently, like a couple of other MD&G albums we’ve recently told you about (see 31 July 2017 and 28 February 2018), this one easily earns an "Audiophile" rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180326)
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