CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 JUNE 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.
Bacewicz: Pno Qnts 1 & 2, Qt (4 vns), Qt (4 vcs); Lason/Wasiucionek/Switala/PolVc Qt/Silesian Qt [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
After a five-year hiatus, please welcome one of the 20th century's leading lady composers back to these pages with this new, invaluable Chandos release. Polish-born Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969) began her career as a concert violinist, but later devoted herself entirely to composition. She subsequently left a large oeuvre across all genres.
It includes four symphonies, eleven concertos (seven for violin; see 28 April 2013), and a significant number of chamber works, four of which fill out this disc. These have copious movement markings, which will be noted in hopes of better explaining the music. Hopefully, this won't turn the following into something more like an Italian language primer.
Her First Piano Quintet of 1952 is in four movements, and the initial, sonata form one begins "Moderato molto espressivo" ("Moderate and very expressively") [T-1] with a pensive, rueful theme for the strings (PR) [00:03] set to a sighing piano accompaniment. This is immediately followed by a PR-related, skittering, "Allegro" ("Fast") ditty (PS) [01:37] that seems folk related. Then PR and PS are developed in adjoining sections marked "Poco meno mosso" ("A little less lively") [02:30], "Poco rubato" ("A little syncopated") [03:09], "Meno mosso" ("Less Lively") [03:28] and "Più mosso" ("More lively") [03:43].
After that, PS returns [04:17], announcing the recapitulation, which has a repeat of PR for shimmering strings and tintinnabular piano [04:58]. It's succeeded by a "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") coda [05:54] that reprises the movement's opening, but leaves it dangling in midair.
Next, there's a scherzo that takes its cue from the Polish oberek, which is a mazurka on amphetamines. This opens "Presto" [T-2] with twitchy strings [00:00] and a pixilated keyboard ditty (PK) [00:07] that cavorts about. Then a "Poco meno mosso" ("A little less lively") thought based on a close relative of PR intervenes [01:42]. However, PK resumes at "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") [02:24] with some pizzicato spicing [03:14-03:33], ending the movement like it began.
Whimsy turns to grief in the succeeding ternary, A-B-A one [T-3]. This is a lugubrious funeral march with respectively "Grave" [00:00] and "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") [04:55] outer sections. They're wrapped around a hymnlike, "Meno mosso" ("Less Lively") lament [02:40] and conclude the movement in dark despair.
The mood brightens in the rondoesque fourth [T-4], which starts "Con passione" ("Passionately") with a fidgety, fugal idea (FF) [00:00]. It's followed by a melodious version of FF (FM) [01:12] in an unmarked episode that’s of "Cantabile" ("Songlike") temperament.
After that, FF returns in "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") sections [02:18 & 04:13], bracketing another FM-based, "Cantabile" one [03:53]. Then FF and FM power a closing coda marked "Grandioso" ("Grandly") [04:40], which ends the piece jubilantly.
The year 1965 saw Grazyna complete a second Piano Quartet, which is a much more progressive, three-movement work. The first [T-5] opens "Moderato" ("Moderately") with a spooky, tone-row-like motif (ST) [00:00], which is the subject of ten subsequent, dialectic variations.
The first six marked "Più mosso" ("More lively") [00:29], "Allegro" ("Fast") [00:59], "Meno mosso" ("Less Lively") [01:33],"Più mosso" ("More lively") [02:08], "Poco più mosso" ("A little more lively") [02:30] and "Molto allegro" ("Very fast") [02:55] become increasingly agitated. Then a "Meno mosso" ("Less Lively") [03:34], "Rubato" ("Syncopated") [04:02], "Sostenuto" ("Sustained") [05:03] and "Più mosso" ("More lively") [05:58] bring the movement to a squirrelly close.
It's followed by a tormented second [T-6], laced with hints of the third-movement "Intermezzo" in the composer's Partita for Violin (1955) as well as ST above. This gets off to a hushed, foreboding, "Larghetto" ("Rather slow") [00:00] start, and transitions via a downward glissando [01:20] into a raucous, "Grandioso" ("Imposing") [01:20] episode. The latter surrounds a haunting "Sostenuto" [02:07-03:49], and then a "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") [04:51] return to the opening closes the movement full circle.
Virtuosity runs amuck in the third and final one [T-7]. It begins "Allegro giocoso" ("Fast and playful") [00:00] with the piano rushing downstairs on little brat feet -- apologies to adoring parents and Carl Sandberg. This is followed by pizzicato strings playing passages [00:02] suggestive of the extended violin theme that opens the Partita mentioned above.
Subsequently, the music becomes serene in "Poco meno mosso" ("A little less lively") [02:16] passages, only to again turn crazed in another of those "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") [02:58] segments. Then all this scampering about leads to a "Meno mosso" ("Less Lively") moment of reflection [03:50]. But the composer's antic nature prevails in a "Lo stesso tempo" ("At the same speed") coda [04:11] that ends the Quintet perfunctorily.
Back in 1949, when Poland was very much under the Soviet Union’s (1922-91) thumb (1945-1989), Grazyna wrote the delightful Quartet for Four Violins featured next. It shows her ability to produce folk-based music, which had that immediate, mass appeal demanded by the presiding Communist cultural authorities, but at the same time, lasting value. What's more, with a dedication to conservatory students, this was designed as a teaching piece, and is still used today in music schools throughout the world.
In three movements, it's a tuneful, romantically inclined work that gets off to an "Allegretto" ("Lively") [T-8] start (AS) [00:00]. This has a comely winding idea (CW) [00:05], soon followed by a CW-related, "Allegro giocoso" ("Fast and playful"), folkdance-like number (CF) [00:49]. Then there's a yearning variant of CF (CY) [01:26] marked "Poco meno" ("A little less").
The latter then makes a pizzicato bridge [01:52], having a similarly spiced version of CF (CP) [01:58-02:03], into a "Poco meno" ("A little less") return of AS [02:18]. It's succeeded by "Tempo II" ("Second tempo") afterthoughts of CF [02:45], CY [03:11] and CP [03:25], which end the movement with a forte "So there!"
After that, there's an "Andante tranquillo" ("Tranquilly flowing") [T-9] that opens with a CW-derived, reflectively peripatetic idea (CR) [00:00]. It dominates this moving reverie, which also serves as a study in legato playing.
The closing "Molto allegro" ("Very fast") [T-10] is an exciting virtuosic workout for all four fiddlers. It begins with a CW-reminiscent, catchy, scampering ditty (CS) [00:00] that's a cross between an American hoedown square dance and those infectious tunes from the Tatra Mountain region of southern Poland (see 31 October 2017). CS is then tossed back and forth, bringing the work to a playful conclusion.
Filling out this disc we get the Quartet for Four Cellos of 1963, which finds Bacewicz at her most avant-garde and even suggests her budding interest back then regarding electronic music. In two movements, the sonata form opener [T-11] begins with an ominous, "Narrazione. ♩ = 42" ("Narrative. 42 quarter note beats per minute") introduction [00:00], followed by two motivic episodes.
An eerie, hesitant first, marked "Poco più mosso" ("A little more lively") [00:33], makes a "Poco meno mosso" ("A little less lively") transition [01:48] into a strutting "Più mosso" ("More lively") second [02:52]. Then there's a "Sostenuto" ("Sustained") development [03:45] with a subsequent "Più mosso" ("More lively") recap coda [05:55] that ends the movement gruffly.
The concluding rondo-like "Riflessioni. ♩ = 50" ("Relective. 50 quarter note beats per minute") [T-12] begins with string-effect-tinged, Morse-code-like passages [00:00]. They hint at an angular, recurring subject (AR) played by the lead cello at the outset of the succeeding "Più mosso" ("More lively") section [01:26].
AR then triggers a couple of bizarre developmental episodes respectively marked "Poco meno mosso" ("A little less lively") [02:02] and "Più mosso" ("More lively") [03:53]. The latter has an electronic-synthesizer-like glissando [04:52] that fosters a spastic coda [05:21], which brings the Quartet to a twitchy conclusion.
Last year Chandos released a Gramophone Award-Winning album with all seven of Graznya's String Quartets (1930-65) done by the world-renowned Silesian Quartet (SQ), based in Gliwice, Poland. Now this adventurous label gives us the SQ along with Wojciech Switala at the keyboard in equally stunning performances of the composer's two Piano Quintets.
Their account of the Second easily sweeps away the scant competition currently out there. As for the First, there are several extant versions, but arguably the same claim can be made about this. In any case, according to the album notes, the recordings were done back in 2010, and it's good they're finally available.
Turning to the Quartets, both were recorded last year. As for the musicians, the SQ's Szymon Krzeszowiec and Arkaduisz Kubica are joined by Krzysztof Lason and Malgorzata Wasiucionek for the violin one. They deliver a captivating rendition of it, after which the Polish Cello Quartet gives us a spirited reading of the other.
All four selections were taped in the Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937, see 18 February 2009) Academy of Music Concert Hall, Katowice, Poland, and sound amazingly consistent, notwithstanding the seven year time span between them. Moreover, the recordings project an ideally sized sonic image in a warm, suitably reverberant, enriching venue with the musicians perfectly placed and balanced.
The Quintets find the strings comfortably positioned to either side of a centered piano, while the Quartets have them agreeably spaced across the stage. This gives the music adequate room to breath without masking any of its detail.
As for the sound quality, the piano is wonderfully captured with just the right amount of percussive bite, while the strings are natural sounding. The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasing highs, a musical midrange, and clean bass with no low string hangover.
Bottom line, what we have here is an audiophile's delight! Conventional CDs featuring chamber music for piano and strings don't get any better than this. Take it along on your next “highend” shopping expedition!
In closing, one tiny nitpick. There's a fleeting dropout in the first Quartet's opening movement [T-1, 00:15], which could be an awkward edit, or age-related.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180630)
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Bossi, M.E.: Pno Trios 1 & 2 "Trio sinfonico"; Trio Archè [Brilliant]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Most associate Italian composers who flourished around the latter half of the nineteenth century -- Ponchielli (1834-1886), Verdi (1813-1901), Leoncavallo (1858-1919), Puccini (1858-1924) and Mascagni (1863-1945) to name six -- with the world of opera. But Marco Enrico Bossi (1863-1925) is a real exception!
By way of background, both of his parents were organists, and consequently he developed an interest in music at a very early age. Marco subsequently studied piano in Bologna, and composition at the Milan Conservatory, where Ponchielli was one of his instructors. He then pursued a career as an international organist, and would teach, as well as implement courses of study devoted to the "King of Instruments" at schools in Naples, Venice, Bologna and Rome. Accordingly, he was the Italian counterpart of such legendary French organists as César Franck (1822-1890) and Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921).
Bossi would produce more than 150 works across all genres, the majority being organ related. However, he’d also write some for small chamber ensembles, which include the two Piano Trios filling out this new, bargain-priced, Brilliant release.
The first Trio of 1896 owes a debt to Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). It begins with a sonata form "Allegro-Moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-4]. The opening statement (OS) consists of an effusive flourish (EF) [00:00], immediately followed by a sighing, wistful melody (SW) [00:04] and a consoling countersubject (CC) [00:57]. Then OS is repeated [02:21], giving way to a stern development [04:27].
The return of SW [05:45] marks the recapitulation, where we soon hear cheerful reminders of CC [07:16]. These trigger a virtuosic coda [08:02] that ends the movement full circle with another EF [08:11].
There's a complete change of pace with the sad "Dialogue: Larghetto" [T-2]. This opens with hushed, repeated piano chords [00:00], over which the cello intones a lachrymose cavatina-like theme (LC) [00:05] that's picked up by the violin [00:49]. An increasingly despondent, LC-based dialogic duet (DD) for the strings [01:34] follows, succeeded by a couple of detached, moribund phrases [04:49 & 05:08], Then DD resumes [05:25], ending the movement with a feeling of reconciled anguish [05:25].
Worry turns to whimsy in the vivacious "Scherzo: Vivace" [T-3], whose outer sections are based on a WS-related, pixilated tune [00:01] that may bring to mind lighter moments in Saint-Saëns' piano concertos (1858-96). They surround a wheezing trio [02:14-04:27], where Bossi may be mimicking the sound of those Italian bagpipes known as Zampogna.
This is immediately followed by a lively "Finale: Festoso" [T-4], which starts with a jolly, somewhat LC-reminiscent, tarantella number (JT) [00:00]. JT is tossed about, eventually transitioning via pizzicato-spiced passages [beginning at 02:19] into a spunky, exploratory episode [02:31]. Then JT returns [03:46], eventually engendering an excited bravura coda [04:45]. It ends the movement as marked, bringing the Trio to a festive conclusion.
Five years later Bossi came up with a follow-on that he called "Trio sinfonico" (1901). Stylistically speaking, this is a much more sophisticated offering, and shows the influence of Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) works written around the late 1800s. More specifically, there's a thematic fluidity recalling his tone poems and structural intricacy worthy of Richard's chamber music.
The initial "Moderato" ("Moderate") [T-5] is in modified sonata form, and opens with soft, repeated piano chords [00:00], prefacing a wistful, Straussian, aria-like melody (WS) [00:04]. It’s soon followed by a gently rocking countersubject (GR) [00:34], which is briefly explored, and the reappearance of WS [01:31].
The latter gives way to an episodic development [beginning at 01:59] that’s in three, separate, agitated installments. The first two of these bracket an anxious repeat of GR [03:27-04:08], and trail off into a GR-based, aria-like reverie [05:44-07:23]. This bridges into a third [07:23], which precipitates a recap of GR [09:14] and WS [09:51]. It then ends in a thrilling virtuosic coda [10:54], which concludes the movement exultantly.
Joy turns to sadness right from the start of a subsequent "In Memoriam: Adagio" [T-6]. This begins with a languorous, downcast subject for the piano (LD) [00:00] that’s soon taken up by the strings [00:59]. LD is explored and succeeded by a moving, hymnlike melody (MH) [03:29], which becomes food for thought. Then the two ideas alternate with a sad MH [09:53] closing the movement despondently.
A cheery scherzoesque "Noveletta: Moderato" [T-7] clears the air with bell-like outer sections featuring a couple of tintinnabular tunes [00:00 & 01:29]. They surround a poignant, searching episode [05:58-07:52], bringing the music to a jovial conclusion.
The rondo-like "Finale: Allegro Energico" [T-8] lives up to its markings and opens with a chipper riff [00:00] that seeds a thematic nexus (CN) [00:00]. This slows [01:45], transitioning into a sweeping amorous melody (SA) [02:12] that undergoes a colorful development [03:21]. Then bits of CN return [04:49], giving rise to some happy, closing thoughts, which include recollections of SA [06:25]. These engender a joyful bravura coda [07:24] that ends the Trio smilingly.
Trio Archè (violinist Francesco Comisso, cellist Dario Destefano and pianist Francesco Cipolletta), which is based in Turin, Italy, plays up a storm, giving us virtuosic, compelling accounts of these Bossi rarities. That coupled with this disc's low price give it a big edge over what little competition is currently out there.
The recordings were made at the Bartok Studio located in Bernareggio, Italy, some 90 miles east-northeast of Turin. They present a slender soundstage in comfortable surroundings, where there's no feeling of that confinement frequently associated with studio productions.
That said, Signore Cipolletta is center stage with the strings to his immediate left (violinist) and right (cellist). Their instruments are well captured and balanced against one another. However, these romantic rarities would have sounded better, had the musicians been more widely spaced in an acoustic conducive to a richer sonic image.
The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by argent highs, a lank midrange and tenuously clean bass with no resonant hangover in low cello passages. Considering all of the foregoing, this release gets a borderline audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180628)
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Brouwer, L.: Book of... (2 gtrs & stg orch); Bellinati: Conc... (2 gtrs & orch); Brasil Gtr Duo/Amado/Delaware SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Concertos for two guitars have been far and few between since Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco's (1895-1968; see 31 January 2018) ground-breaking one written in 1962, and Joaquin Rodrigo's ever popular Concierto Madrigal of 1968. So, leave it to the adventurous Naxos label to dig up a couple of 21st century ones by composers who are both classical guitarists, namely Cuban Leo Brouwer (b. 1939), and Brazilian Paulo Bellinati (b. 1950).
Brouwer has produced a large oeuvre across all genres and is probably best known today for his many movie scores. These include the highly acclaimed one for the award-winning Mexican film Like Water for Chocolate, which appeared in 1992.
His music for the concert hall comprises an ever-growing number of guitar concertos (at least twelve as of a few years ago), and the one here known as The Book of Signs was his tenth. A three-movement work dating from 2003, the soloists are accompanied by a string orchestra. Incidentally, this piece marks Leo's long overdue first appearance in these pages!
The opening two movements are both of theme-and-variations persuasion with the initial one titled "The Signs of Memory" [T-1]. Leo borrowed its subject from Beethoven (1770-1827), namely the one at the beginning of his 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C Minor for solo piano (WoO80, 1806). What’s more, the Brouwer is in reverse order, where the main idea doesn't appear in full until the end (see 31 March 2018).
It opens with the orchestra playing an abbreviated version of Beethoven's tune (BT) [00:02], which is repeated four times with ever increasing force and followed by a brief pause. Then the guitar duo enters [01:43], soon reiterating BT [01:56], and the strings follow suite [02:24], giving rise to three variations that are sequentially songful [02:48], antsy [03:13], and floridly strumming [03:58].
After a brief pause, the tutti reappear with a fleeting variant [04:31]. succeeded by a couple from the soloists that bring J.S. Bach (1685-1750) to mind [04:58 & 05:18]. They lead to another four, which alternate between orchestra and soloists. These are sequentially sighing [06:07], spastic [06:37], wistful [07:45] and cantilena-like [08:50].
Rushing strings and staccato guitars then make a BT-tinted bridge [10:13] into a keening treatment [11:41]. But this is short-lived, and the mood turns very Latin American with the dynamic duo launching a catchy, virtuosic set of six, dancelike numbers [12:13, 12:30, 13:11, 13:33, 14:06 & 14:21]. This transitions via scurrying passages [14:53] into a final, tutti, big tune reminder of BT [15:14] that begins legato. But there's an arresting, momentary pause, and the last five notes are played pizzicato, ending the movement in somewhat saucy fashion.
The next "Variaciones sobre un tema sentimental" ("Variations on a Sentimental Theme") [T-2], starts with gentle, swaying strings [00:00], over which the soloists play a songlike, main subject (SM) [00:23]. It's followed by five variants that are imitatively spiced [01:58], searching [03:00], Flamenco-like [03:54], nervous [04:18] and agitated [04:41].
Then the guitars launch into a serenade-like variation [05:15], which bridges into five increasingly troubled ones [05:59, 06:19, 06:53, 07:16 & 07:31]. However, the mood changes as the last fades away, and the soloists give us a relaxed, tuneful number [08:38]. This is succeeded by gentle, flowing tutti passages [09:14] that bring to mind the opening of Smetana's (1824-1884) "Moldau" in Ma Vlast (My Country, 1874).
But things again turn busy with the duo's return [09:43], giving way to a disembodied episode [10:26] and an expectant pause. Then hushed strings recall the movement's opening [10:41], and the guitars play SM [11:06 & 11:58]. A subsequent swaying afterthought [13:10] concludes the movement in peaceful contemplation.
The final "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-3] is a captivating rondo. This is infected with a Cinquillo Africano rhythm (CA) common to the Caribbean, which makes it dancelike.
FI is picked up by the tutti [03:00], giving way to three variants that are sequentially songlike [03:58], agitated [04:55], and CB-related (FC) [05:40].
All of the foregoing undergoes a virtuosic exploration [06:14] that transitions into a haunting episode [08:25] with memories of SM [beginning at 08:41]. This ends in a ruminative caesura [10:14], followed by a tranquil SM-based bridge [10:16] into a vivacious version of FC [10:58].
The latter triggers a spirited developmental dance sequence [11:14] with suggestions of SM [12:44] and a bravura segment for the soloists [13:13]. It then transitions into a final virtuosic coda [13:55], ending the Concerto in crazed exuberance.
The next one, Bellinati's Concerto Caboclo (2011), is a more casual affair, which pays tribute to folk music found in the São Paulo region of southeast Brazil. On that note, "Caboclo" refers to the country's inhabitants, who are of mixed European and sub-Saharan black ancestry, thereby reflecting the diverse origins of the material that inspired this work. What's more, the composer also had in mind the viola caipira, which is a Portuguese country guitar common to that area of Brazil.
All three movements have recondite titles, and the sonata form first is marked "Toada: Andante, quasi andantino" [T-4]. It's a songlike offering and begins with the soloists playing an ambling introduction [00:01] followed by a folksy, peripatetic tune (FP) [00:27] set to a baião rhythm.
Next, the orchestra enters [01:53], soon repeating FP [02:15]. This leads to a development [02:44] that becomes impassioned, and wanes into a dialogic, guitar cadenza [03:46]. The latter gives way to a sunny reminder of FP from the tutti [05:52], who are joined by the soloists [06:53] to close the movement in a pleasant, nonchalant manner.
Then there’s another songlike one, this time marked "Moda di viola: Adagio" [T-5], which opens with an FP-related, leisurely idea (FL) for the orchestra [00:00]. FL becomes the subject of a lovely serenade with Latin American percussive spicing [beginning at 01:29], where the guitars soon come onboard and repeat it [02:12].
An exquisite rhapsodic exploration of FL follows [02:42], in which it’s amorously reprised [04:36]. This is succeeded by a tripping cadential afterthought [05:04-05:33], and the tutti conclude the movement in tranquil contentment.
The final "Ponteado: Vivo" [T-6] is a fleet, folk-style-finger-picking, rondo, that starts with plucky passages (PP) for the duo [00:00]. Then the orchestra enters [00:37], and the two groups vie with each other, delivering a nonstop, scurrying, thematic sequence harboring an FP-reminiscent, winsome tune (FW) [01:43].
All this leads to a sprightly developmental episode [02:29] with virtuosic forays for the soloists and a passing allusion to FW [03:22]. Then the music slows, and after a brief pause, resumes its hectic pace in a PP-initialed coda [04:02] that ends the concerto excitedly.
Our soloists are the Brasil [sic] Guitar Duo (BGD) comprised of João Luiz and Douglas Lora. They've previously premiered critically acclaimed performances of guitar works by both composers and give equally splendid accounts of the selections here. The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) under its Music Director David Amado give the BGD unqualified support, making this a potentially award-winning release.
The recordings were made in 2016 at the Soda House Auditorium (Brouwer), Wilmington, and Sanford School's Geipel Center (Bellinati), Hockessin, Delaware. Both project comfortably proportioned sonic images in affable venues with the Brouwer sounding somewhat fuller. The guitars are centered, but with a bit more space between them for the Bellinati. Be that as it may, they're well captured and balanced against the DSO.
The instrumental timbre is characterized by highs with a touch of digital grain in massed upper string passages, but the midrange is good. As for the bass end, it’s lean and clean throughout with no hint of low string hangover.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P180629)
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Frommel: Sym 1, Sym Prelude; Bruns/Jena PO [Capriccio]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
If you mention this composer only by his last name, many might think you meant Czech-born Rudolf Friml (1879-1972), who moved to America in the early 1900s and wrote such highly successful Broadway musicals as Rose-Marie (1924). Senior readers may even remember it had that once, very popular hit song "Indian Love Call".
But our man here, Gerhard Frommel (1906-1984), was born in Germany and spent his entire life there, including World War II (WWII, 1939-45). This inevitably raises questions, particularly for older, classical music enthusiasts, regarding his political leanings and activities, during the years when his country was under Nazi Party control (1933-45). And in that regard, he gets a mixed, somewhat favorable report!
On the bad side, the year 1933 saw him become a Party member. Then in 1940, he was called up for military service, joined the Wehrmacht, and took part in Germany's invasion of France. However, this is heavily outweighed by a couple of factors!
Moreover, he never adhered to the Third Reich's racist policies. And what's more, in the last half of the 1930s, he organized lectures as well as concerts, promoting music by composers, which the Nazi cultural authorities had banned as "Entartete" ("Degenerate"). These included works by Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), who'd also fallen into disfavor.
Gerhard was a student of Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949) and pursued a career that for the most part involved teaching as well as writing. However, he also composed a modest body of works across all genres, and two of his symphonic ones fill out this new, adventurous Capriccio release. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
They date from Frommel's Nazi years, when he reputedly wrote some trifling, jingoistic, pieces ostensibly to please his superiors. However, neither of them falls into that category. On the contrary, each is of lasting value with something new and interesting to say.
Both are rooted in Anton Bruckner's (1824-1896) symphonies (1863-1896). But coming some fifty years later, they also bring to mind the music of Gerhard's older colleagues such as Richard Strauss (1864-1949), Siegfried Wagner (1869-1930; see 9 June 2009), Hans Pfitzner (1869-1949; see 23 February 2011), Max Reger (1873-1916; see 31 August 2016), Walter Braunfels (1882-1954; see 28 February 2016) and even Swedish-Germanophile Kurt Atterburg (1887-1974; see 10 November 2014).
The program opens with his Symphony No. 1 (1938), which had a strong supporter in legendary conductor-composer Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954), who premiered it in 1941 with the Berlin Philharmonic. It's atypically in three movements, each of which is stylistically more sophisticated than the last.
The first "Moderato. Maestoso" ("Moderate. Majestically") [T-1] begins with a commanding, brass embellished, Brucknerian theme (CB) [00:01 that's enthusiastically repeated [01:21]. It dies away into a romantic, melancholy idea (RM) [02:21], which is explored and bridges ominously [05:06] into a piquant return of CB [05:53].
This triggers an animated development, also involving RM [07:16], and comes to a CB-big-tune climax [08:45]. The latter then ebbs into agitated passages [09:24], followed by some RM-based afterthoughts [10:37]. They invoke a rousing CB-RM-derived recap [12:50] and coda [14:20], which conclude the movement triumphantly.
The mood turns whimsical with the middle "Scherzo - Trio". It starts with flighty, chugging passages (FC) [T-2, 00:00] and an antic, sassy ditty (AS) [00:08], recalling Richard Strauss' zanier moments. Then AS is tossed every which way and succeeded by some timpani strokes that announce the "Trio" [T-3, 00:00]. A fetching waltz episode, this features a couple of comely tunes, which are respectively suave [00:03] and distantly reminiscent of CB [00:36].
It’s immediately followed by the return of FC [T-4, 00:00] and AS [00:08] that now power a dramatic episode, which comes to a cataclysmic, Brucknerian climax. This ends with a massive stroke on the tam-tam [04:29] that takes almost thirty seconds to die away.
It’s immediately followed by the third movement "Finale" [T-5], which is structurally more adventurous than either of the preceding ones. This is a singular Frommel creation best describes as a distantly sonata-form-related, through-composed tone-poem. Consequently, the music falls in line with that of the other composers mentioned above.
The first segment marked "Largo" ("Slow and dignified") begins with a morose thematic nexus (MN) introduced and punctuated by an intense, four-note, rhythmic riff (FR) [00:00]. FR will sound familiar to most, as it recalls the moto opening from the second-movement, "Scherzo" of Beethoven's (1770-1827) Choral Symphony (No. 9, 1822-4)!
An exploration of MN follows, where there are hints [02:23] of an arresting heroic motif (AH) soon to come. Then the music accelerates [beginning at 03:07] into the remaining "Allegro" ("Fast") portion of this movement. Here we get a full-blown version of AH [03:36] and wisps [03:56] of a comely, expansive countersubject (CE) that momentarily appears [04:45]. Next, both ideas undergo an agitated, somewhat martial development [05:32], which bridges via brass flourishes [06:58 & 07:14] and sad reminders of CE [07:04 & 07:20] into a funereal episode [07:47].
Then excited reminders of AH [09:41] initiate an imposing, march-like recap. This takes the form of a fugue worthy of Reger and has sunny wisps of CE [10:49 & 11:18]. It makes a triumphant CE-AH-riddled progress [11:58] into an AH-based coda [14:34] that ends the Symphony victoriously.
The concert concludes with Frommel's Symphonic Prelude of 1943, which is a programmatic, tone-poem-like work. However, the composer only hints in his later Autobiographical Sketches (see the album notes), at what inspired it. Moreover, he allows as how the two main themes reflect his "feelings of shock and anxiety” caused by the horrendous battle of Stalingrad. This brings to mind "Operation Barbarossa" (1941; see 30 April 2018), which lead to Germany's defeat there in one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.
That said, the piece opens in a somber, grief-stricken idea (SG) [00:00], brazened out with brass-embellishments [00:54]. SG is contemplated and makes an agitated, martial transition [03:00] into a related despairing motif (SD) [04:52], which is explored. Then there's a brief pause followed by the reappearance of SG. This triggers an agitated, bellicose fugue [06:51] that dies away into a melancholy SD-based episode [08:50].
The latter bridges dramatically into a compelling restatement of SG [10:21] and SD [11:15]. Then the music becomes increasingly optimistic and turns sunny [12:29], concluding the Prelude with hopes for better days.
These long-forgotten Frommel works receive strong advocacy from German conductor Jurgen Bruns and the Jena Philharmonic Orchestra. Maestro Bruns' attention to dynamics, phrasing and rhythmic detail bring out all their intricacies.
A coproduction of Deutschlandradio Kultur, the recordings were taken from live performances that took place last year at the Volkshaus, in Jena, Germany. However, skillful postproduction touch-ups and editing have eliminated any extraneous audience noise or applause.
Well-chosen microphones and their skillful placement preclude the overly close, in-your-face sound frequently associated with live recordings. Consequently, these immaculately scored works are richly captured across a generous soundstage in warm, accommodating surroundings.
The orchestral timbre is characterized by acceptably bright highs, a pleasing midrange, and transient, clean bass that goes down to rock bottom. In short, thanks to the efforts of a superb production staff these are demonstration quality concert recordings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180627)
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Huang, A.: Pno Trios 1 & 2; Huang/Suleiman/Zhou [MD&G (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Chinese-born, Canadian émigré An-lun Huang (b. 1949), began studying piano in 1956 at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. But the Cultural Revolution in China (1966-76) forced him to abandon his musical pursuits in 1969, when he was conscripted into a proletarian workforce.
However, An-lun continued them on his own, and in 1976 he was appointed assistant conductor as well as composer in residence of the China Central Opera, Beijing. The year 1980 saw him immigrate to Canada, where he took composition courses at the University of Toronto (see 31 May 2018). Then Huang would go on to further his musical education at Trinity College, London, and Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, where he got his master's degree in 1986.
Shortly thereafter, he returned to Toronto and took up residence, becoming a freelance composer. His music has since been widely performed, warmly received, and won many awards. He's written a substantial body of works, and both of his piano trios written to date fill out this new MD&G hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), release. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The concert starts with the earlier dating from 1981. The first of its three movements marked "Andante - Allegro" ("Flowing - Lively") [T-1] is in sonata form, and begins with passages, having aggressive forte piano chords [00:00] that alternate with somber, sighing strings. These opening measures suggest and engender a swaying, heuristic theme (SH) played by the latter [01:32]. SH is then forcefully repeated [02:21], and makes an agile transition into a winsome, Sino-folklike idea (WS) for the piano [03:14].
WS is contemplated [04:02] and wanes, giving way to animated, WS-based keyboard passages that initiate a moving development [06:41]. Then recollections of WS [08:25] and SH [09:31] announce a captivating recap. This makes a romantic, SH-laced transition into a fiery, WS-derived coda [12:32], which ends the movement in a blaze of virtuosity.
The next "Moderato" ("Moderate") [T-2] begins with a leisurely tintinnabular riff (LT) for the piano [00:00]. LT hints at a WS-related pensive melody (WP) soon played by the cello [00:22], which subsequently launches into a WP-based, rhapsodic outpouring.
Then the piano returns with LT [01:41], followed by a WP-related, weeping episode for the violin [02:28]. It's joined by the other instruments [beginning at 03:55], and the mood turns all the more gloomy, culminating in a brief pause and succeeding angst-ridden ff passages [05:05]. These wane into hushed, sad, pentatonic deliberations for all [beginning at 06:02] that close the movement despairingly.
A final "Allegro assai" ("Very joyful") [T-3] opens with mewing strings [00:00], over which the piano introduces a sanguine version of WS (SS) [00:03]. It's the underlying idea for this rondoesque movement, and will appear in a variety of captivating, variational guises. The first four range from songlike [01:05] to agitated [01:48], rhapsodic [02:08] and assertive [03:28].
Then the return of SS on the violin [04:18] ushers in two darker-hued variants, which are respectively meditative [05:20] and searching [06:35]. They give way to a repeat of the opening measures [07:55] and five, successively brief treatments. These are sequentially amorous [08:40], frantic [08:55], aria-like [09:14], skipping [09:53] and expansive [10:21], with the last occasioning a resplendent, ringing version of SS [11:22]. This triggers a dramatic, SS-based coda [12:22] that momentarily loses steam, but ends the work with an emphatic "So there!" [13:12].
Some thirty years separate it from the next Trio, which was completed in 2014 and later revised, giving us the one played here. A four-movement piece, the first sonata form "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-4] is of late romantic persuasion. It's opening statement (OS) begins with a flowing amorous melody (FA) for the cello [00:00] that will color all of the work's themes.
FA is picked up by the violin [00:29] and explored, giving way to a related, yearning second subject (FY) heard on the piano [01:41]. The latter bridges into an FY-derived, commanding riff (FC) [02:47], succeeded by a repeat of OS [03:13] and an agitated development [06:24].
The recapitulation begins with the return of FY on the piano [09:26], hints of FA in the strings, and subsequent reappearance of FC [10:28]. The latter dies away, and after a dramatic pause we get a big-tune version of FA [10:49], which kicks off a thrilling coda that ends the movement exultantly.
The next "Largo - Moderato cantabile" ("Broad - Moderate and songlike") [T-5] is a captivating, rapturous reverie! It's based on a drop-dead, gorgeous melody [00:00] somewhat along the lines of those underlying Gustav Mahler's (1860-1911) later, more romantic lieder.
This movement is offset by a "Scherzo. Allegro vivace" ("Scherzo. Lively and vivacious") [T-6], having outer sections built on an antsy, FA-related, folksy ditty [00:00]. They surround a comely trio featuring a retiring, slightly melancholy tune [01:43-03:46], and bring things full circle.
The Trio's closing "Largo - Allegro assai" ("Broad - Very joyful") [T-7] starts with a threatening forte chord for all [00:00], after which the piano launches into an ominous, cadenza-like, virtuosic episode [00:06]. Here it plays a distantly FA-related, heroic idea (FH) [00:39] that will be the recurring subject for this rondoesque movement.
Next, FH undergoes a keyboard exploration [01:19] immediately followed by a perky, somewhat jazzy segment for all [02:23]. This wanes into sad, FH-related, violin-dominated developmental passages [beginning at 03:26], which become increasingly energized.
These subsequently bridge into a demanding, pensive cello cadenza [05:42-07:02] that transitions into a highly agitated final coda [07:21], having triumphant fragments of FH [beginning at 07:53]. Then, as in the conclusion of its predecessor, the music wanes [beginning at 08:34], only to make a triumphant, FH-based return [08:53] that closes the trio with another forceful "So there!" [09:12].
Violinist Bin Huang (apparently not related), cellist Alexander Suleiman and pianist Yubo Zhou give us magnificent renditions of both works, making a strong case for An-lun's music. Incidentally, besides their busy, highly successful concert careers, all three artists hold distinguished teaching positions. More specifically, Ms. Huang is associated with the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, while Mr. Suleiman and Ms. Zhou are respectively on the music faculties of Suzhou and Xiamen University, along China's southeast coast.
Not long ago MD&G gave us a magnificent hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.1), disc of Dutch composer Georg Hendrik Witte’s chamber music (1843-1929; see 28 February 2018), and here they follow up with this equally outstanding one devoted to Huang’s. These recordings were done last year by the identical production staff and at the same location, i.e., the Concert Hall of a former Benedictine Abbey in Marienmünster, Germany.
All three tracks find the musicians appropriately positioned with the pianist center stage, and strings to left (violinist) and right (cellist), yielding a suitably sized sonic image in a warm, accommodating venue. The instruments are ideally captured as well as balanced against one another. Their overall timbre is characterized by bright, pleasing highs, a totally convincing midrange and clean bass with no resonant hangover in low cello passages.
Depending on your audio gear and speaker placement, some will opt for the somewhat more natural sounding SACD stereo track over its conventional counterpart. Those having home theater systems, and liking a more open sound, will find the multichannel one gives the music additional breathing space. Despite some occasional, keyboard action noise towards the end of the later trio [T-7], all this makes for a demonstration quality disc no matter how you play it!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y180626)
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