CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 APRIL 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.
Hausegger: Barbarossa (sym poem), 3 Hymns to the Night (baritone & orch); Hermus/Begemann/Norrk SO [CPO]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
CPO's ongoing revival of Siegmund von Hausegger (1872-1948) continues (see 31 August 2017) with this recent release. It includes another of his major symphonic works, and three songs with orchestral accompaniment. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The first selection titled Barbarossa, which means "Red Beard" in Italian, is a three-movement Symphonic Poem (Symphonische Dichtung), dating from 1898-9. However, there's a structural coherence present that explains why the composer also referred to it as a symphony.
This brilliantly scored, programmatic work was motivated by a period of civil strife Hausegger had experienced in 1897-9 (see the loquacious album notes), and centers around legendary Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (aka Frederick I, 1122-1190). He ruled the Holy Roman Empire (800-1806) from 1155 until his death and is considered one of the greatest medieval monarchs. Incidentally, the name "Barbarossa" may ring a bell as it was the code word for that notorious, German World War II (1939-45) invasion of what was then the Soviet Union (1922-91), which began on 22 June 1941 (see here).
The sonata-form-like first movement marked "Die Not des Volkes" ("The Distress of the People") is a characterization of the public turmoil the composer had witnessed. It begins dramatically, hinting at ideas soon to come, and turns pensive [01:23] with touches of Mahler. Then the music escalates into a troubled thematic nexus, whose two parts could be interpreted as symbolizing the people's repression (RP) [05:12] and resultant insurgency (IN) [05:36].
That's followed by a subdued motif seemingly denoting their desire for autonomy and accord (AA) [06:40]. This reaches an impassioned climax, which wanes into an IN-initiated development [09:07]. The latter turns combative with more Mahlerian shadings, and engenders a heroic theme, presumably characterizing Barbarossa (BB) [11:04].
BB brings to mind Wagner's (1813-1883) Ring Cycle (1853-74) and is succeeded by an IN-triggered recapitulative coda [12:06]. Here there are hints of BB [beginning at 13:21], offering hopes for better times to come. But to no avail, as the movement ends with tragic despondent forte chords.
Next, there's "Der Zauberberg" ("The Magic Mountain") [T-2], which presumably refers to the Kyffhäuser Hills, located some 50 miles west of Leipzig. Legend has it Barbarossa along with his knights slept under these and would waken to aid the German people in their greatest hour of need.
Accordingly, the music starts scherzo-like [00:00] with skittering passages, where there are hints of RP and AA. These suggest local folk have gathered, hoping the legend will come true, and they’ll be liberated from their oppressors. The people seemingly mill about, and the music builds with wisps of BB [02:54] to a stirring climax as they attempt to rouse him and his men. However, they're unsuccessful, and it dies away into a soporific andante [03:50] as they slumber on.
A lyrical optimistic episode soon follows [05:11], in which the people’s spirits seem to brighten. Consequently, there's a moving, Wagnerian, hymnlike invocation, where they presumably once again try to wake them.
Their efforts continue in captivating, RP-AA-related, pastoral passages [09:50], with an agitated segment indicative of their desperate need for help [11:34-13:01]. Subsequent intimations of BB [14:40] and subdued querying chords then end the movement seemingly asking, "will they or won't they awaken?"
The answer comes in "Erwachen" ("Awakening") [T-3], which opens with aggressive, IN-RP-related passages [00:00]. These are seemingly indicative of the people's rage against their oppressors and bring to mind more agitated moments in Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies, as well as Sibelius' (1865-1957) early orchestral works. Then with pounding timpani, the music fades and becomes sad [01:16] somewhat along the lines of darker moments in Liszt's (1811-1886) tone poems.
After that, hints of BB and suggestions of hope to come surface in a magic, swelling episode [02:34], which occasionally smacks of moments in Joachim Raff's (1822-1882) symphonies (1859-79). This is followed by a dramatic pause, and overpowering, BB-based passages with trumpet and drums [05:00], somewhat presaging moments in Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) opera Le Coq d'Or (1905-7). All this marks the awakening of Barbarossa and his knights, who then set out in a stirring march (SM) [05:39] to liberate the despondent populace.
A combative development follows [06:35] that turns increasingly glorious, and bursts into a great BB-based hymn of victory [09:09] with Mahleresque overtones. The latter makes a lyrical transition [10:06] into joyful remembrances of the work's opening measures [10:21]. Then there's a brief break succeeded by SM [12:40], which becomes even more triumphant than before, and has unifying recollections of past ideas [beginning at 13:49]. The foregoing leads to a dramatic diminuendo [16:05], after which this resplendent creation ends exultantly.
Drei Hymnen an die Nacht (Three Hymns to the Night", 1901-2) fill out this release, These are after poems by Swiss writer Gottfried Keller (1819-1890) in a collection dating from 1888, the third having an added verse of unidentified origin (see the album for German and English texts).
The opening "Stille der Nacht" ("Silence of the Night") [T-4], is set to an exquisite melody, and limns the healing powers of night. On the other, "Unruhe der Nacht" ("Restlessness of the Night") [T-5] is a troubled number, where nighttime is personified as one of the Norns, who were female beings in Norse mythology that ruled men's destiny. Here the poem's protagonist regrets he can't intercede with this prosopopoeia to bring him good fortune.
The closing "Unter Sternen" ("Under Stars") [T-6] has a moving, expansive thematic accompaniment that shows Hausegger at the height of his melodic powers. This hymn is a halcyon glorification of the star-filled night sky, which ends in a stunning welcome to sunrise and the newborn day.
We've previously lauded Dutch conductor Antony Hermus in these pages for outstanding performances of undeservedly neglected symphonic fare (see 30 September 2015), and he doesn't disappoint here. Along with the Norrköping Symphony Orchestra (NSO), Maestro Hermus delivers a ravishing account of Barbarossa. What's more, they're joined by German baritone Hans Christoph Begermann for a deeply felt performance of Drei Hymnen...
The recordings date from 2011 and were made in Norrköping, Sweden, presumably at the Louis de Geer Concert Hall. They project a wide, marginally withdrawn sonic image in pleasantly reverberant surroundings. The orchestral timbre is characterized by soft, tinkly highs, a condensed midrange, and somewhat boomy bass.
As for Herr Begermann, he has a magnificent voice that could have been more effectively highlighted against the NSO. Also, there's some microphone-related, digital grain in his upper registers. Considering all the foregoing, this disc falls short of demonstration quality, but with repertoire this rare, we're lucky to have what's here!
In closing, as on CPO's two previous Hausegger releases (see 31 August 2017), the album notes are by that irrepressible annotator, who's never at a loss for words, Eckhardt van den Hoogen.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180430)
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Kernis: Dreamsongs (vc & orch), Va Conc, Conc w... (orch), etc; Roman/Neubauer/Kernis/Miller/RNorth Sinfa [Signum]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
This significant Signum release adds another Ivy Leaguer to these pages (see 31 August 2016), namely Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960). He's a member of the faculty at Yale School of Music, which was Charles Ives' (1874-1954; see 31 December 2011) old alma mater, and now one of America's most honored composers, with around 130 works to his credit. What we have here are three of his more recent ones (2009-14) in the concertante genre.
Dating from 2013 and titled Dreamsongs, the first selection is a concerto written for and dedicated to our soloist, cellist Joshua Roman. Atypically in only two movements, each of them is an amalgam of slow, fast, dramatic and lyrical "sections" (see the composer's informative album notes).
The initial one marked "Floating Dreamsongs" [T-1] is a theme followed by a series of tightly knit variational episodes. It starts with a laid-back, oneiric main subject (LO) [00:01] played by the soloist to a hushed orchestral accompaniment. Then harp and vibraphone join in for the first variant [00:54], giving it a celestial aura.
The next three are sequentially agitated [01:34], queasy [03:08] and troubled [03:41], with the last of these having a couple of brief cello cadenzas [beginning at 04:38 and 05:01]. After that the music fades into a melancholy, weeping variation [05:18], and a nostalgic one with woodwind spicing [06:51]. Then there's an afterthought for the soloist, which ends with a couple of cadential allusions to LO [beginning at 07:07].
Next, the cello launches into agitated bravura displays [07:58] over orchestral passages that again include harp and vibraphone. These lead to a dramatic, searching episode [08:55], which waxes and wanes into nostalgic reminders of LO [10:44]. They gradually soar heavenwards, whereupon the movement ends with a sustained high note for the soloist that fades into oblivion.
We get a change of pace with the lighter, more exuberant "Kora Song" [T-2], whose title refers to a West African stringed instrument, which is plucked. Accordingly, Kernis mimics its sound with pizzicato cello (PC) and harp. Incidentally, this movement was developed along with the soloist, and represents one of the most demanding tests of a cellist's technical abilities. Also, there are several cadenzas, one of which includes the West African djembe drum.
The music opens with PC and harp playing a dancelike ditty (DD) [00:00]. This is picked up by the vibraphone [00:40] and becomes a lovely serenade for legato cello (LC) and orchestra. Then the horns introduce a section [02:56] that turns rather martial, leading to a PC cadenza [04:16].
After that the tutti reappear [04:50], and the music bridges via a haunting passage [05:16] with what sounds like a theremin [beginning at 05:19] into an LC cadenza [06:10]. It initiates a plucky, agitated segment for the orchestra [06:34] having LC cadential moments [06:55, 07:01 & 07:19] underscored with that drum mentioned above.
Then there's a pause followed by an amorous, sweeping episode for everyone [07:48], which becomes troubled [08:39]. This leads to a monster cadenza that starts PC [10:01], turns LC [11:13], and closes with the vibraphone announcing the orchestra's return [11:39]. It's joined by an ebullient LC, and all work themselves into joyful remembrances of DD [11:55], which end the work exultantly.
Next, we get the three-movement Viola Concerto of 2013-14. Kernis says this was inspired by the playing of our soloist, Paul Neubauer, and is in some ways a follow-on to his earlier Still Movement with Hymn for piano quartet (1993). He goes on to add how moved he was by Paul's earlier CD (2006), featuring viola and piano arrangements of several Robert Schumann (1810-1856) instrumental duets.
The first of the concerto's three movements titled "Braid" [T-3] gets off to a restless start with a fibrillating vibraphone [00:00]. It's soon joined by the rest of the orchestra plus viola playing a wistful, searching melody [00:24]. Then soloist and tutti intertwine in a series of alternately frenetic and pensive passages, with one of the latter bringing the movement to a tranquil conclusion.
A moving "Romance" follows [T-4], which Kernis describes as a romantic intermezzo with links to Brahms' (1833-1897) late works and Schoenberg's (1874-1951) early ones. He also tells us the title stems from his discovery of Clara Schumann's (1819-1896) solo piano Romanze (Romances, 1839-56) written for husband Robert.
Then the concerto ends with a movement lasting almost twenty minutes, which the composer rightfully calls its darkest. This is marked "A Song My Mother Taught Me" [T-5] and based on two thematic ideas of entirely different origin that share a striking rhythmic similarity.
One of them acknowledges the composer and soloist's strong interest in folk music. It's the tune for the Russian-Jewish song "Tumbalalaika" (RT), which Kernis learned as a child. The title translates as "Balalaika Sounds" (see Yiddish-English texts here or in the album notes), and RT can be heard on a later, footnote track in an arrangement Aaron made and plays with Paul [T-9].
The other is the melody from a selection on that disc of Paul’s mentioned above, namely, Robert Schumann's "Fughette" (SF), sometimes spelled "Fughetta" ("Short Fugue"), found in his Klavierstücke (Piano Pieces, Op. 32, No. 4) of 1838-9. SF is also presented on a later footnote track with Aaron at the piano [T-10].
These disparate subjects are the lifeblood of this convoluted, closing movement, which opens with plucky strings and plaintive clarinets hinting at SF [00:00]. The latter soon appears in the strings [00:27] and is picked up by the soloist [00:54]. Then it undergoes a series of melodic as well as harmonic mutations. They include fragments of RT played by the viola [beginning at 01:39] with arresting, intermittent, combative bass-drum strokes.
The foregoing gives way to mysterious passages [06:05] that conjure up a distorted RT [06:43]. This is followed by a reverse theme and variations like the one in the Dompierre (b. 1943) piece we told you about last time (see 31 March 18).
Here some ten variants of RT appear first, the most notable ranging from unhinged [07:01] to plucky [07:57], introspective [08:41], increasingly troubled [11:29] and frantic [12:38]. Finally, soloist and orchestra give us a full-fledged version of RT [12:57], which makes a dramatic transition into another viola-drum conflict [15:52]. This is followed by dissonant passages [17:41], and sorrowful memories of SF [18:33] with a final sustained note of grief on the viola that ends the work sadly.
Bringing this release to a rousing conclusion, we have Concerto with Echoes (2009), whose "Echoes" are of several J.S. Bach (1685-1750) works, including his Brandenburg Concertos (1717-21), particularly the Sixth. In the Kernis, the orchestra's four main sections (strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion) take on solo roles. Accordingly, the first of its three movements marked "Lontano; Toccata: Molto allegro" ("Wide; Toccata: Very fast") [T-6] is a string thing that begins with a shimmering, sinuous Bachian idea (SB) [00:00], which suddenly quits.
Then after a pregnant pause, there's a manic, frantic toccata [01:06] that's a virtuosic workout for everyone. This electrically charged number is along the lines of the last movement in Prokofiev's (1891-1953) Classical Symphony (No. 1, 1916-7).
Next, we get a bizarre creation marked "Slowly" [T-7], which is in essence a passacaglia, starting with an SB-related, vaporous ostinato melody (SV) [00:01]. This is the subject of several subsequent episodes that fall into three sequential groups of varying mood.
The first [01:52] is reverent with pious winds, tubular chimes reminiscent of church bells [beginning at 01:58], and devout cellos [02:46]. It's followed by an ominous second, featuring sinister brass and winds [04:10]. They’re accompanied by some arresting percussive effects that include whacks on what sounds like an anvil [05:24, 05:35 & 05:45].
Then the music suddenly stops, and after a brief break, low strings initiate a nostalgic third group [06:23]. They're soon joined by the rest of the orchestra in passages, which hint at SV [beginning at 07:16], and terminate the movement quietly.
The work closes with "Aria -- dolente, grazioso" ("Song -- Sad but graceful") [T-8] that's an SB-derived, doleful dance, which begins in the woodwinds [00:00] over some delicate string pizzicato [00:00]. Some despondent brass commentary follows [00:49], making things all the more gloomy until upper strings enter playing more hopeful passages [01:56]. Then the oboe surfaces over them [02:37], announcing a return to the mood of the opening measures. Here grief prevails in ever slower and lower passages [beginning at 03:09} that end the concerto morosely.
We've already introduced you to the soloists for the first two selections and will go on to say they deliver technically stunning, definitive performances of their respective works. Both receive totally committed support from the Royal Northern Sinfonia (RNS) under American conductor Rebecca Miller, who also give a dramatic yet sensitive account of the closing concerto. Kernis couldn't be better represented!
The recordings were made almost two years ago at the Sage Gateshead, Concert Hall, Newcastle, England. Like those on a previous disc featuring the RNS and Maestro Miller (see 31 January 2016), they project a wide, somewhat recessed soundstage in an acceptably reverberant space.
Each of the soloists is well highlighted and balanced against the RNS, with Roman's sonorous cello beautifully captured. However, Neubauer's soulful viola comes across with a bit of edginess in upper registers that's obviously electronic rather than artist related.
The overall orchestral timbre in this immense, curved-glass, stainless-steel hall is characterized by wiry highs, particularly in the upper strings, a generally convincing midrange, and clean bass. In summary, the recordings present a sonic image that's acceptable, but falls short of demonstration quality. We might also add there are sporadic thumps, particularly in that monster cello cadenza [T-2, 10:01-11:40], seemingly occasioned by Mr. Roman and Ms. Miller's more active moments on a timpanic concert stage.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180429)
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Newton, R.: Orch Wks V1 (Syms 1 & 4, Distant Nebulae); Soloists/Mann/Málaga PO [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Three more world premiere recordings of orchestral works by little-known British composers fill out this recent release from the adventurous Toccata folks (see 28 February 2017 and 2018). This time around it's their first volume devoted to the music of Rodney Newton (b. 1945) and a significant wake-up call for those interested in rare symphonic fare.
He's been active on the English music scene ever since his graduation in 1967 from what's now known as the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Moreover, Rodney began his career as a percussionist with a couple of leading London orchestras. He's since moved on to music management as well as teaching, conducting, and arranging. All the while Newton has also been an active composer, who's produced a large body of works. These include 14 symphonies, the First and Fourth of which appear on this disc.
No. 1 dates from 1967-9 and is in three movements. The initial one [T-1] has a "Lento" ("Slow") introduction that opens with the lower strings playing a somber five-note motif (SF), which is the first part of a melancholy idea (SM) [00:00].
SM is then picked up by the winds [00:22] and undergoes an exploration, bringing to mind moments in Vaughan Williams' (1872-1958) Third Symphony ("Pastoral", 1921). After that the music becomes agitated, triggering an aggressive, "Allegro" ("Fast") development of martial persuasion [02:42], slightly reminiscent of the trenchant "Scherzo" (3rd movement) in VW's Ninth (1956-7).
It transitions via a belligerent timpani tattoo into a nostalgic, "Meno mosso" ("Less agitated") episode [03:57] that becomes a heroic, "Allegro assai" ("Very fast") quick march (HQ) [06:28]. This builds to a crashing, percussion-laced climax, and is succeeded by a pensive moment for the violas [08:38]. Then HQ resumes [08:48] with reminders of SF [beginning at 08:57], ending the movement triumphantly
The next "Lento ma con moto" ("Moderately slow") [T-2] is a captivating pastoral offering based on an attractive opening theme [00:01], which the composer tells us bears a coincidental similarity to the melody for Puccini's (1858-1924) "Vissi d'arte" aria in Tosca (1900). At one point, trumpet and harp initiate a moving modal, Gregorian-Chant-like episode [03:55]. Then ominous, forceful passages [05:51] bridge into a consolation devoutly delivered by a solo violin [07:02]. After that, an orchestral recap of the opening measures [08:28] conclude the movement much like it began.
A rousing rondo marked "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with spirit") [T-3] brings the work to a memorable close. It begins with a snappy, martial tune [00:00], which is diddled and followed by a lyrical, amorous melody [01:53]. The two ideas then alternate taking on different, at times even jazzy guises [02:55]. After that, the work closes capriciously with hints of past ideas [06:58] and a cheeky, explosive SF-laced pronouncement [07:54].
The year 1975 saw the composer complete his Fourth Symphony, which is scored for a large orchestra with a monster, three-man, percussion section that includes a drum kit (DK). In the usual four movements, the opening one titled "Metamorphoses" [T-4] has a "Lento" ("Slow") introduction. This starts with low growling strings [00:00], over which a chromatic, tone-row-like motif (CT) appears on the celeste [00:18].
CT is explored, picked up by the brass [01:14], and explodes into an "Allegro energico" ("Fast and energetic"), which will fill out the movement. It's a theme and variations at heart, where we soon hear a CT-derived, peripatetic main subject (CP) [01:57] that undergoes some eight transformations.
The first two are respectively lachrymose [02:23] and warlike [03:05]. Then there’s an Eastern-sounding variant, where that DK is much in evidence, succeeded by tempestuous [04:01], eerie [04:42] and percussively pixilated ones [05:01].
After that the mood becomes sad with a keening episode [05:41]. But not for long as the music erupts into a heroic, cinematic march [07:27] that brings to mind William Walton's (1902-1983) Shakespearean film scores (1936-55). This subsides, and there’s a subsequent, subdued CP afterthought [09:18], which builds into a frenetic, blazing finale that ends the movement perfunctorily with a CP-reminiscent, forte flourish.
Next, there's an "Elegy" marked "Lento" ("Slow") [T-5] that starts with a wistful, rising-falling idea (WR) for the horn [00:00] set to a weeping string accompaniment. WR becomes the subject of a funeral march-like development with tubular chimes suggesting church bells and a grim, tenor-drum tattoo (GT) [01:54]. This waxes into a powerful, tuned-percussion-enhanced climax [06:35]. Then the music wanes, there's another GT [07:45], and subsequent allusions to the opening measures [07:55] close the movement in the same spirit it began.
Rodney characterizes the sinister "Scherzo malevolo" [T-6] as "something from a dance hall in Hell" (see his informative album notes). Accordingly, it opens "Allegro vivo" ("Fast and lively") with devil-whistling passages for the piccolo [00:00] that are all the more satanic for some mischievous DK work. These are followed by a demonic ditty (DD) [00:10] that triggers a crazed, chromatic fugato-march (FM) [00:25].
FM lurches about [01:34], giving way to a pining, "Andante" ("Moderately slow") trio [02:54]. There are underlying incursions of DD [beginning at 03:09], which then makes a brief "Tempo primo" ("Tempo same as first", i.e., "Fast and lively") reappearance [04:15], that’s interrupted by more FM [04:26].
This builds to a diabolical climax with an explosive DK solo [05:33], and the music fades into subdued, eerie, "Moderato" ("Moderate") passages. These have a "celestial" flourish [06:38] and subsequent, sustained high note for the violins (HH).
HH ushers in a closing "Passacaglia, Variations and Epilogue" [T-7] that opens "L'istesso tempo" ("At the same speed", i.e. " Moderate"). A solo trombone soon plays the passacaglia's ostinato, which is stately, chorale-like idea (SC) [00:03]. It’s picked up by various sections of the orchestra and followed with a "Poco più mosso" ("A little more agitated") set of four SC-based variations. These are sequentially, flighty [01:53], doleful [02:46], chorale-like [03:34], and in the form of a fleeting fugue [04:45].
After that SC makes a stately, "Adagio" ("Slow"), big-tune return [06:02], which builds to a colossal climax (CC) [06:32] worthy of Malcolm Arnold's (1921-2006) grander moments (see 21 December 2009). Then, all of a sudden CC makes a dramatic transition into pensive, tuned-percussion-laced passages with a couple of brief CC spikes [ 07:14 & 07:37]. All this gives way to an SC-haunted, "Epilogue" marked "Largo" (“Slow and dignified”) [08:30] that ends the work evanescently.
This release closes with the short tone-poem Distant Nebulae, which was originally written in 1979, but revised last year for this recording. The composer says it was inspired by his lifelong interest in astronomy, and Charles Ives' (1874-1954) The Unanswered Question (1906-8; see 31 March 2018).
By way of reminder, Ives' short work starts with soft supernal strings, invoking images of cosmic expanses. Then a solo trumpet plays a questioning, motive (TQ), which the winds thoughtlessly dismiss. TQ appears another five times, with each inquiry meeting a more mocking response. But the insistent soloist asks once again, this time to no avail, and the work ends like it began.
In essence, Rodney's piece picks up where Charlie's left off, and opens ethereally [00:01], bringing to mind more mysterious moments in Gustav Holst's (1874-1934) The Planets (1914-6). Here it's easy to imagine those spectacular nebulosities captured by the Hubble Space Telescope.
But all this is suddenly interrupted by a ponderous, bass-drum stroke (PB) [02:06], which in this day and age could well represent one of Stephen Hawkings' (1942-2018) formidable "black holes"! Be that as it may, PB unleashes spooky passages, presumably characterizing the mysteries of the universe.
Then a trumpet materializes [04:31], playing a reconciled idea, that would seem to imply Ives' question has been answered. In any case, another PB soon follows [06:52], after which the music vanishes, presumably down one of those "black holes".
These recordings are based on newly proofed, orchestral parts done by our conductor Paul Mann. A tireless champion of buried British symphonic treasure (see 28 February 2018), he whips the Málaga Philharmonic Orchestra's talented musicians into energetic, totally committed performances of the symphonies. Maestro Mann then delivers a highly sensitive, carefully judged interpretation of the tone poem, which is perfectly in keeping with Newton's oneiric music.
As for the recordings, they were made last year at locations listed in the album notes as Sala Beethoven and Sala Ensayos de Carraque, Málaga, Spain. However, there's no indication as to what was done where, or any readily available information regarding either venue. Suffice to say, all three project amazingly consistent, robust, sonic images in warm surroundings.
The orchestral timbre is characterized by pleasantly bright highs, a well-defined midrange, and profound, clean bass, particularly in the generously scored, percussion augmented Fourth Symphony. In that regard, this disc will separate the sheep from the goats, when it comes to pricey, high-end sound systems.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180428)
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Nilsson, A.: Pno Conc, Sym 4, Zarah Ste, Chaconne (pno); Sturfält/Coppin/Takács-Nagy/Ollikainen/VästSinfta [dBProd]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The Swedish dB Productions label continues their survey of music from that country's leading contemporary composers (see 31 May 2016), with this recent release of selections by Anders Nilsson (b. 1954). He was born in Stockholm and studied composition there at the Royal College of Music (1979-83)., where he taught from 1988 through 1993.
Anders has written a significant body of works across all genres, several of which have won prestigious prizes. He's represented here by three orchestral selections as well as one for solo piano. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The CD begins with his piano concerto of 1997, which is presumably his only one to date. In the usual three movements, the first marked "Lento - Allegro" ("Slow - Fast") [T-1] starts with a rhythmically twitchy motif for the soloist (RT) [00:00]. Then the orchestra joins in, and the piano plays an extended skittering idea (ES) [00:38].
Next, we get a jittery exploration of the foregoing that triggers what sound like hints in the lower strings of that 13th century, Gregorian sequence and harbinger of doom, the Dies Irae (DI) [00:56]. But more about this in a minute.
Anyway, there's a neoclassical crispness and transparency here that brings to mind Igor Stravinsky's (1882-1971) earlier works (1919-50). On that note, a saucy development follows [02:20], where a wiry headstrong theme appears (WH) [03:37], which owes a debt to Bartók (1881-1945). The latter is tossed about by soloist and orchestra with more fragments of DI, giving way to an extended, demanding cadenza [05:39-06:56]. Then the tutti return, and the movement ends in whimsical fashion with a sustained note, bridging into the next one.
Marked "Largo ma non troppo" ("Lively, but not too fast") [T-2, 00:00], this is impressionistic and along the lines of Ravel's (1875-1937) piano concertos (1929-31). There are avian decorations (ADs) played by the winds [beginning at 01:34] and a trumpet allusion to WH [03:09], which transitions via frilly piano passages into the closing "Allegro con brio" ("Lively with spirit") [T-3, 00:00].
Here ADs for soloist and tutti initiate a flighty rondo-like movement, where the DI makes a more recognizable appearance [00:29]. It's followed by a tick-tocking, timpani diminuendo (TT) [00:43], and flighty passages [beginning at 00:57], where DI recurs in a number of capricious, neoclassical guises. These are succeeded by another TT [04:01], which introduces a second, lengthy cadenza [04:12-06:04]. However, this one is based on DI, and TT-reinforced.
After that, more ADs reappear [06:06] as everyone launches into a frenetic conclusion. Towards the end, there's a dramatic, anticipatory, sustained note for the soloist [07:31], and the work closes with an excited, final flourish.
In (2004-6), Nilsson wrote one of his most successful works. This was a two-act opera (not currently available on disc) about the great Swedish singer-actress Zarah Leander (1907-1981), who had a highly successful, but controversial career in Nazi Germany during the 1930-40s.
Two years later he came up with our next selection, the one-movement Zarah Suite (2008) [T-4]. While most of the music is borrowed from the opera, it’s a dramatic, stand-alone, tone-painting that's not meant to be a programmatic representation of the parent work.
Marked "Adagio - Allegro" ("Slow - Fast"), the Suite begins with a doleful elegy [00:00]. This is all the sadder for a keening, solo cello [00:58], playing a melody, sometimes associated with the traditional Jewish prayer, Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil… (Hear, Israel…; aka The Shema).
Then there's a brief melancholy waltz [04:03-05:09], followed by martial passages [05:24], referencing war songs, anthems and marches of Zarah’s time [07:29]. They surround a tango segment [07:59-10:13], which we're told is from a number where Leander dances with Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945).
All this gives way to a troubled episode [11:21], having music apparently drawn from a bizarre, second-act scene in the opera, where Lender, who’s suffering from a horrible hangover, takes a bath (see the album notes). It builds to a tragic climax that dies away with a grieving cello [14:15] into ominous passages. The last of these seemingly ends the work in a peremptory death spasm.
Dating from 2016, the concluding orchestral selection is the fourth of Anders' five symphonies completed to date. In the usual four movements, the first is a "Largo" ("Slow and dignified") [T-5]. This opens very softly [00:00], and a repeated, rising-four-note motif (RF) soon appears [00:14].
Then that DI (see Nilsson's Concerto above), again comes into play. Moreover, it's the inspiration for a subsequent lyrical melody (DL) [02:30], and the woodwind flourishes that decorate same [beginning at 03:16]. Like Rachmaninov (1873-1943), whose orchestral works (1891-1941) are riddled with the DI, this seems to hold a strange fascination for Anders.
Be that as it may, the foregoing ideas then undergo a volatile development [04:20], where DL is pulled this way and that, but finally emerges in a tranquil recap [07:38]. The latter closes with wisps of RF and DL [beginning at 09:06], which suddenly give way to the next "Scherzo: Allegro" ("Playful: Fast") [T-6].
This starts with a chugging, timpani-accented, locomotive-like motif (CL) [00:00], that loses steam and is succeeded by a winsome, rising-falling idea (WR) [00:29]. Then CL returns [01:28], becomes intermittent, and there are hints of WR [02:39] as well as CL [03:31].
These bridge directly into the next movement marked "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-7], which begins with an explosive, timpani-reinforced shimmering chord [00:00]. This wanes into an anguished sighing subject (AS) [04:11], which undergoes a dynamic, alternately tortured and searching exploration that fades away.
After a dramatic pause, we get the concluding "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-8] announced by a roaring timpani roll. The subsequent captivating episode has recollections of past ideas masterfully woven together and engenders an animated ending [05:31]. The latter is fraught with rhythmically galvanic moments reminiscent of Beethoven's (1770-1827) later symphonies (1807-24) as well as hints of DI [beginning at 05:52]. Then there's a full orchestra, forte flourish [07:28], and the Symphony just quits!
The Chaconne for solo piano of 2014-5 filling out this release [T-9], apparently represented a turning point in Nilsson's career. Moreover, it marked the start of a new creative period, following some hard times when a lack of commissions and performances made him question his future as a composer.
Anders tells us this piece reflects the searching, virtuosic aspects of Liszt's (1811-1886) later piano works. In that regard, it gets off to a ruminative, passacaglia-like start with a pensive, questioning idea (PQ) for the left hand [00:00] and supportive flourishes in the right.
PQ undergoes a chromatic exploration, where a folklike ditty surfaces [01:43], bringing to mind moments in Bartók's Six Romanian Folk Dances for solo piano (1915). Not long after that, there are some sporadic, arresting bravura outbursts [beginning at 04:07].
Then the music ebbs into a mournful episode [05:35], which has more finger fireworks and owes a debt to Liszt's (1811-1886) Funérailles (No. 7 from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses for solo piano, S173, 1845-52; see 31 January 2018). This gradually subsides, there’s a brief pause, and the opening is recapped [09:56] with the piece ending impatiently in a final display of digital dexterity [10:45].
Swedish pianist Martin Sturfält gives technically accomplished, sensitive interpretations of the outer works. He’s given superb support in the Concerto by Sweden’s thirty-three-member Västerås Sinfonietta (VS) under Hungarian conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy, whom we just recently lauded (see 31 January 2018). Together their well-judged dynamics as well as careful attention to melodic phrasing and rhythmic detail capture every nuance of Nilsson's intricate scoring.
The middle selections again feature the VS, but this time under Finnish conductor Eva Ollikainen. They deliver a colorful account of the Suite, and what will probably be a definitive rendition of the Symphony for some time to come. Incidentally VS first cellist, Australian-born Samuel Coppin, gets a big hand for his emotive contribution to the former.
The recordings were all made sans audience in January (Concerto and Chaconne) and May (Suite and Symphony) 2017 at the Västerås Konserthus (Västerås Concert Hall), some 60 miles west-northwest of Stockholm. The orchestral ones consistently project a wide, acceptably distant sonic image in a comfortably reverberant space with the soloist ideally captured and balanced against the VS for the Concerto. The overall instrumental timbre is good with pleasantly bright highs, a convincing, well-focused midrange and lean, clean bass.
As for the Chaconne, the piano seems somewhat confined. Arguably, it would have had a more open, richer sound had the microphone(s) been farther away, thereby taking advantage of the hall's superb acoustics.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180427)
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Stöhr, R.: Pno Trio, 3 Songs (low voice, vc & pno); Siciliano/Roelofs/Koch/Keeton [Toccata]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Just last month we again sang Robert Fuchs' (1847-1927) praises (see 31 March 2018). And now one of his best students, Richard Stöhr (1874-1967), makes a welcome return to CLOFO (see 15 December 2014) with this second volume of his chamber music from Toccata. As you may recall, the rising tide of Nazi anti-Semiticism in Europe forced him to flee Austria in 1938, and emigrate to the United States, where he Anglicized his last name, replacing "ö" with "oe" as Schoenberg (1874-1951) had done.
Richard would first join the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and later teach at St. Michael's College, Colchester, Vermont. Professor "Stoehr" as he was then known could count Samuel Barber (1910-1981) and Leonard Bernstein (1918-1890) among his students.
Also, a prolific composer, he left a large body of works across all genres, most of which have yet to see the light of day. The two chamber selections on this CD were written in Austria during the early 1930s and are of late-Romantic persuasion. These are both world premiere recordings, and the only currently available versions on disc.
The program starts with the First of his five piano trios that dates from 1905, and is a substantial, fifty-minute, four-movement work, whose opening "Allegro" [T-1] is in sonata form. This begins with repeated piano riffs [00:00], over which the violin soon enters, playing a short, catchy figuration (CF) [00:06] that's the first part of a graceful, lilting idea (GL). The latter is successively picked up by piano and cello, after which it bridges via an exploratory episode into a comely swaying theme (CS) [02:51].
CS prompts a captivating development [04:36] that brings to mind Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) chamber music of the late 1800s and leads to a GL-initiated recap [07:19]. This is followed by a beguiling coda [10:45], which ends the movement pensively.
The next "Andante (Tempo di marcia)" [T-2] is a theme and variations, starting with a march-like, main subject (MM) [00:00], having intimations of CF and smacking of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). MM is succeeded by eight variants that are alternately skittish [01:39, 04:55, 07:08 & 10:40] and contemplative [02:42, 05:36, 07:47 & 11:40], with the sixth and longest, being a moving cantilena [07:47]. Then MM returns in commanding fashion [14:00] to close the movement dramatically.
A substantial Scherzo follows [T-3] that’s structurally reminiscent of those in Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies (1863-1896). The opening "Presto" ("Very fast") begins with a CF-related, playful dance tune [00:00] that wanes into a gentle, GL-reminiscent rocking melody [01:27]. Both ideas are subsequently explored and recapped [02:54].
Then after a curiously long pause, which almost seems like an editing error, we get a Trio marked "Sehr langsam" ("Very slow") [04:35]. This is a melancholy meditation that’s followed by the return of the "Presto" [06:54], bringing the movement full circle.
The Finale [T-4] starts with a "Grave e maestoso" ("Grave and majestic") built around a CF-derived, weeping theme (CW) [00:00]. Then there's a caesura, and the music turns "Allegro grazioso" ("Joyful but graceful") with an innocent, perky tune (IP) [02:07]. This is succeeded by a CW-related, flowing idea [02:49] that’s examined and transformed into a romantic melody (RW) [03:49]. This engenders a gorgeous, rhapsodic episode, which is sung by the strings and smacks of Brahms' (1833-1897) Piano Trios (1838-1889).
Then after an anticipatory break, there's a piano-initiated developmental exploration [05:17] of IP and RW. This slows, giving way to antsy passages that introduce an IP-initiated recap [07:08]. Here we get reminders of RW [beginning at 08:02] that soar dramatically and die away into a brief pause and sad reminder of the movement's opening [08:58]. But not for long as an excited IP-based coda [09:21] ends the trio trippingly.
The release concludes with Drei Lieder für eine tiefere Stimme mit Begleitung des Violoncello (Three Songs for Low Voice with Cello Accompaniment, 1909), all of which are aureate poems set to sentimental accompaniments. The album notes include their German and English texts.
The first penned by Christian Friederich Hebbel (1813-1863) comes from his collection Mutter und Kind (Mother and Child, 1857) and is titled "1. Gebet" ("1. Prayer") [T-5]. It has a maudlin melody, and invokes "Fortune", presumably the Roman goddess Fortuna, to relieve a mother’s suffering.
After that we get "2. Ward der Abend regenmüd" ("2. The Evening was Tired from Rain") [T-6] by Toni Mark (no further information currently available). This lied is set to a distraught tune and draws poetic parallels between inclement weather and a heavy heart.
The last and best is by the great German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Titled "3. Dem aufgehenden Vollmonde" ("3. To the Rising Full Moon"), this dates from 1828) [T-7], when he was engaged in studying nature. It features a radiant melody [00:00] that's the most sophisticated of the three. Here the poem's imagined character takes comfort in the moon's inexorable rising despite earthly clouds. The song then ends with a moonlit, instrumental afterthought, that brings this CD to a moving conclusion.
Violinist Laura Roelofs, cellist Stefen Koch and pianist Mary Siciliano give a committed, sensitive performance of the Trio, making a strong case for this unjustly neglected work. Ms. Roelofs is replaced by bass-baritone Stefan Keeton for the Drei Lieder…, which he sings to perfection.
As on Toccata's previous Stöhr release, these recordings were made at The Brookwood Studio in Plymouth, Michigan. Done over the past two years, this time around the sonic image is more comfortably spaced in surroundings that seem warmer than before.
The string tone is natural with the piano convincingly captured, and Mr. Keeton comes across very effectively. What's more, a good balance between the musicians prevails throughout. And one last thought, pointy-eared listeners may notice a thump, which seems piano-action-related, just before the Trio's last chord [T-4, 09:54].
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180426)
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