CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 DECEMBER 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.
Braunfels: Stg Qnt (arr F.Haas for stg orch), Sinf Conc (vn, va, 2 hns & stg orch); Schirmer/MunR O [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
With this recent CPO release, it's a pleasure to welcome German composer Walter Braunfels (1882-1954) back to CLOFO. He left a large body of works, several of his earlier ones having already been mentioned in these pages (see 31 May 2016). Now we get a couple of later pieces, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Walter began writing chamber music quite late in his career, and this would include a String Quintet (1944-5). Subsequently, his student Frithjof Haas (1922-2013) would arrange it for string orchestra, giving us what's presented here. Curiously enough, there was a precedent for this, involving Braunfels' good friend Heinrich Kaminski (1886-1946). To wit, back in 1915-6, he'd written a String Quintet, which would appear in a similarly augmented version done by his pupil Reinhard Schwarz-Schilling (1904-1985; see 20 June 2012).
In four movements, the "Quintet à la Haas" starts with a modified sonata form "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-1], whose opening statement (OS) begins with a chromatically anxious theme (CA) [00:00]. CA is massaged and bridges gracefully [beginning at 02:17] into a gentle, related idea (CG) [02:53], followed by a lyricized version of CA (CL) [03:44].
Then there's a CA-initiated, development [05:08] that brings to mind moments in Richard Strauss Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings (1944-5). It transitions directly into a recapitulation [09:16], which is an inventive reworking of OS that triggers a CA-derived coda [14:04], bringing the movement to a distraught conclusion.
The next "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-2] might best be described as a "Theme with Contemplations". Moreover, the opening CL-derived, pining subject (CP) [00:00] will take on a variety of moods. These range from searching [01:15] to nonchalant [02:57], furtive (CF) [03:38], cocky (CC) [04:11], wistful [04:54], nostalgic [06:43] and hopeful [07:41]. Subsequently, there's a repeat of CF [07:42] and CC [08:13], after which the music wastes away [09:02] with a somber sense of resignation.
Then it's "Scherzo" time [T-3], and we get a CP-reminiscent, impulsive idea (CI) that starts with a perfunctory pizzicato plunk. CI suffuses this movement's outer sections [00:00 & 04:07], which surround a CI-derived, quaint trio episode [02:21-04:06] and conclude the music as it began.
The engaging "Finale -- Rondo" [T-4] gets off to a deceptively slow, hesitant start [00:00], hinting at a CI-related, jolly thematic nexus (CJ) that soon follows [01:01]. CJ will appear in several developmental guises, the initial ones being respectively nervous [02:12], introspective [02:37] and flighty [03:01 & 03:32]. Then they're succeeded by inquiring [04:22], insouciant [05:00], troubled [05:40] and crestfallen [06:18] treatments. However, "Hope springs eternal!" as reflected in the next [07:05], which turns frenetic [07:40], bringing this piece to a jaunty, jubilant conclusion.
Back in Baroque times there was the concerto grosso, where a small group of soloists would do battle with the orchestra. This evolved into the sinfonia concertante of the Classical period, which then gave way to the double and triple concertos of later composers (see 14 May 2014 and 31 May 2016). In that regard, although Braunfels named the next selection "Sinfonia Concertante", the work qualifies as a quadruple concerto, considering it's scored for violin, viola, 2 horns and string orchestra (1947-8).
Although this came only two years after the previous work, the music is considerably more progressive. In four movements, the first is a ternary form, A-B-A offering [T-5], where "Adagio" ("Slow") marked "A"s bookend an "Allegro" ("Fast") "B". The opening "A" begins with an ominous, sustained note for the low strings [00:00], over which upper ones along with the soloists intone a pragmatic, sullen subject (PS) [00:01]. This engenders a haunting serenade [beginning at 02:01] that ends in repeated horn calls [04:02].
These conjure up a contentious version of PS [04:46], which initiates "B". Here there are virtuosic displays for each of the soloists, and then wailing horns [07:01] bring back "A". However, this time around it’s of a wistful, nostalgic hue, and gives way to a PS-derived coda [09:58] that ends the movement with a blunt forte chord.
Next up, a "Lebhaft" ("Lively") scherzo [T-6], which has an opening episode (OE) powered by a bounding, ländler-like dance (BL) [00:00]. BL is somewhat reminiscent of CI in the above Quintet, and may remind you of more rustic moments in Mahler's (1860-1911) Symphonies (1888-1910). Then there's a bizarre OE-based trio section [00:55-03:55], after which OE returns [03:56], terminating the movement uneventfully.
A subsequent "Adagio più posto andante" ("Slow but moving along") [T-7] begins with throbbing horns plus tutti [00:00], over which the viola and violin play a PS-like, meandering melody (PM) [00:07]. PM undergoes a caressing exploration, where a related, comforting idea emerges [02:43]. Then the music builds with some itinerant horn pronouncements [beginning at 03:47] to a dramatic climax [05:43] that wanes [beginning at 06:36] and closes the movement warmly.
The work comes to an "Allegro di molto" ("Very fast") [T-8] conclusion, which is a whimsical rondo, commencing with a PS-derived, impish tune (PI) for all of the strings [00:00]. This is subjected to some developmental variations of differing disposition, the first being aria-like [00:57]. Then there's a venatic treatment [02:10] with hunting horn calls [02:20], one of which [03:02] oddly enough bears a strange resemblance to a couple of moments in the melody for "I Wish I Was in Dixie" (c. 1859).
It gives way to contemplative passages [03:21], where one of the horns initiates [03:55] an excited cadenza for all the soloists. Then the tutti join the fray [05:09], bringing the Sinfonia to a thrilling conclusion with remembrances of PI [beginning at 05:31] and a final triumphant sforzando for all.
Two years ago, CPO and the Munich Radio Orchestra (MRO) under their artistic director, German conductor Ulf Schirmer introduced us to a delightful, operatic Maß of Beer (see 31 December 2016), and now they give us a couple of delectable orchestral pretzels. Along with violinist Henry Raudales, violist Norbert Merkel plus hornists Karl Reitmayer and Marc Ostertag in the Sinfonia Concertante, they make a strong case for these Braunfels works.
A coproduction of CPO and Bavarian Radio (BR), the recordings were done back in 2007 (Quintet) and 2009 at BR's Studio 1, Munich. Despite the two years separating them, they project consistent, suitably sized sonic images in reverberant surroundings that enrich this music. The solo instruments are centered with the strings comfortably left (violin) and right (viola) of the horns. All four are well captured and balanced against the tutti.
The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by tolerably bright highs and a lush midrange. As for the bass, while these conservatively scored works won't plumb the depths of the best sound systems, it's immaculate with no hint of any low string hangover.
Everything considered, this CD earns an audiophile rating. That said, pointy-eared listeners may notice a strange thwack in the Sinfonia's last movement [T-8, 03:50] -- maybe General Lee dropped his sword!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y181231)
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Bruneau: Messidor (Act II-III Bal & Act IV Prel), L'Attaque du moulin (Ste), Naïs Micoulin (Act I Prel); Ang/Bar SO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Some twenty-five years ago the Marco Polo label issued a superb CD with orchestral excerpts from three of French composer Alfred Bruneau's (1857-1934) operas. Unfortunately, that disc has long since disappeared. However, those who missed out on it now have a second chance with this recent Naxos release, featuring the identical program.
Not only that, these are new performances, which are even better sounding and offered at a lower price. What’s more, as of this writing, they’re the only recordings of this music readily available on disc.
Louis Charles Bonaventure Alfred Bruneau was Parisian by birth, and would enter the Conservatoire de Paris in 1873, where he first studied cello. Later in 1876, Alfred had César Franck (1822-1890) as his professor in organ, and Jules Massenet (1842-1912) for composition.
Bruneau would leave a substantial body of works, which are for the most part vocally oriented. These include a dozen operas, and the three whose orchestral excerpts fill out this CD, stem from his having met French writer Émile Zola (1840-1902) in 1888. He’d became a close friend, and his literary works, as well as Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) music, strongly influenced what’s here.
Zola was a great proponent of naturalism, which was a late nineteenth century movement in the arts, whose underlying tenet was that environment determines and governs human character. This first manifested itself in music as the Italian verismo (realism) operas, which began with Mascagni's (1863-1945) Cavalleria Rusticana (1892) and Leoncavallo's (1857-1919) Pagliacci (1892). Bruneau would follow in their footsteps, and judging from the selections included on this disc, become a "Verismo French Wagner".
His first operatic effort as such would be the four-act, lyric drama L'Attaque du moulin (The Attack of the Mill, 1893; not readily available on disc), based on Zola's homonymous short story (1880; see summary). Louis Gallet (1835-1898; see 27 May 2013) wrote the libretto (see synopsis), where the setting is the French Revolution (1789-99) as opposed to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1) in the Zola.
What we have here is the composer's three-movement orchestral suite (1893) distilled from the work's music. The opening "I. Prélude et lied" ("I. Prelude and Song") [T-2] begins with an ominous timpani-accented brass riff [00:00] that alternates with a sad, pastoral tune (SP) sung by the oboe [00:04]. The music builds to a dramatic climax, and ebbs into a heroic variant of SP for the horn (SH) [02:07], followed by dreamy related passages. These wax and wane, ending this section with a feeling of peaceful optimism.
Then there's the two-part "II. La Guerre. La Forêt") ("II. The War. The Forest") [T-3], where all hell breaks loose in the first. It starts with timpani-reinforced strings [00:00], SP derived brass fanfares [00:01] and colorful martial-sounding passages [00:29] that include a sprightly drum-and-fife sequence [01:17]. The later makes a busy transition into a trumpet-heralded [01:49], warlike segment and a brass-woodwind-tinged retreat [02:38].
This gives way to "The Forest" part [03:58], which is a moving, heartfelt epilogue, featuring a morose cello [beginning at 04:08]. It brings the movement to a restful conclusion with more hints of SP and SH. In that regard there's a motivic scheme here like that found in Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) major operas (1841-82).
The mood turns exuberant in "III. Les Fiançailles au moulin" ("III. Betrothal at the Mill") [T-4], which is the high point of the suite. It opens with a jolly, playful ditty (JP) [00:00] that's toyed with and hints at a fetching, folk-song-like tune (JF), which soon appears [01:23]. Then JF is bandied about and becomes the subject of a brief rhapsody [04:48] with harp embellishments. This bridges happily [beginning at 06:11] into a JH-based, triumphant coda [06:47], ending the suite exultantly with manic reminders of JP [07:11].
Moving ahead four years to 1897, we get a couple of orchestral goodies from another, four-act lyric drama titled Messidor, this time with a libretto by Zola himself (see synopsis). The name is that of the tenth month in the French Republican Calendar, which corresponds to the period between 19 June and 18 July. Its derivation is the Latin word "messis", meaning "harvest time", and the story concerns the evil brought on by the discovery of gold in a nearby creek, as opposed to the good arising from the annual wheat harvest.
The major selection is a thirty-minute ballet titled "La Légende de l'or" ("The Legend of Gold") [T-6], which was originally meant to introduce the work. However, it was later placed between the second and third acts as was customary with French Grand Operas of that day.
This opens with resplendent, Wagnerian passages powered by a declaratory, commanding theme (DC) [00:00]. These give way to a DC-related, love-associated melody (DL) [01:34] that's contemplated and bridges dramatically into a portentous variant of itself (DP) [05:02]. DP engenders a grasping, agitated segment, which seemingly characterizes all the misfortunes brought about by that gold.
Subsequently the music turns peaceful [07:03], presumably as good prevails, and there are soothing avian calls [07:18]. These at one point [07:33] bring to mind the wood birds leitmotif in Wagner's "Forest Murmurs" from the second act of Siegfried (1871).
Then we get a sinister rhythmic riff [08:18] that sounds very much like the toiling Niebelungen leitmotif in his Das Rheingold (1869). It initiates what seems to be another gold-related section, which gives way to a horn-announced [10:38], gorgeous, amorous episode. This is followed by a pause, and DP-triggered segment [19:02] that’s ostensibly gold-associated and all the more grasping.
But once again, good makes itself known with the return of that horn playing DL [23:54], which builds into a euphoric, final love scene. It's succeeded by rousing, hope-filled passages [26:52] and an explosive, percussive-laced coda [29:25]. The latter brings the ballet to a dramatic conclusion, implying the triumph of everyday working life over the avarice-related, misfortunes brought on by gold.
The other selection from this stage work is the striking Prelude to the fourth act [T-1]. Here "Cav and Pag" (see above) along with the operas of Bruneau's teacher Massenet, particularly Manon (1883-4), Werther (1892) and Thais (1894), as well as his seven Orchestral Suites (1865-82; see Naxos 8553124 & 8553125) are the predominant influences.
In ternary form, it opens with a subdued lyrical number (SL) [00:01] built around a sublime, tender idea [00:08] that seems distantly DC-related. SL adjoins a captivating dramatic episode that begins with a hint of DL [01:58] and has allusions to DP [02:21]. These include a big tune rendition of DP [03:21] that wanes into the return of SL [04:31]. The latter brings the Prelude full circle, ending it tranquilly.
Filling out this release there's the Prelude to the two-act lyric drama Naïs Micoulin of 1907 [T-5] with a libretto by the composer after Zola's eponymous short story (1884, see summary). Suffice it to say, Naïs is a beautiful young girl with a violent father, who jealously guards her and tries to kill her childhood sweetheart when he comes to visit.
Accordingly, this music, which is also in ternary form, begins with a laid-back, searching theme (LS) [00:00] that as the album notes point out, seems to have something of Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) forestial moments. Subsequently, LS undergoes an anxious exploration [beginning at 01:46] with ominous timpani-underscored moments [02:25 & 04:01]. Then LS returns [04:32], ending the Prelude in the same spirit it began, and with four portentous, sustained last chords [beginning at 05:37].
Four years ago, Singapore-born, award-winning conductor Darrell Ang gave us a magnificent disc of orchestral tidbits by Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791-1864; see 23 June 2014). And now he turns his attention to some highly emotive music by one of that composer's younger colleagues. This time around, Maestro Ang and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, also known as the National Orchestra of Catalonia, do us a great service by bringing this memorable program of Bruneau goodies back to the catalog.
These recordings were made in September 2017 at L'Auditori Hall, Barcelona, which is an enormous reverberant space. Consequently, they project a wide and deep sonic image, for which the music is all the richer but at the cost of some clarity. This may bother those desiring a well-focused soundstage; however, it should appeal to listeners liking wetter sonics.
As for the overall instrumental timbre, the upper registers are characterized by tingling highs and a pleasant but somewhat compact midrange. As for the lower ones, Bruneau's colorful scoring calls for a good deal of bass drum work, and they accordingly go down to rock bottom. What's more, while the previous Marco Polo release mentioned above was inordinately boomy, this new Naxos is very clean! On that note, even though this disc isn't demonstration quality, audiophiles will find it a superb test of transient-bass response.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P181230)
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Maier, A.: V3 Chbr Wks: Pno Trio, Stg Qt, 17 Pcs (pno 2 & 4-hands, 4 w vc or vn, 1 after R.Schumann); Soloists [dBProd]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The recent, concurrent release of this album and the one just below is a curious coincidence. Moreover, both have music from the latter half of the 19th century by lady composers with the same sounding last name, except the one here is spelled with an "i" and the other, "y".
Amanda Maier (1853-1894), was Swedish by birth and would marry German-born and trained, Dutch-naturalized Julius Röntgen (1858-1932), who's been a regular in these pages (see 31 May 2017). Now this new dB Productions disc gives us some interesting chamber music by his wife.
She was a musically precocious child, who'd first receive violin and piano lessons from her father. Subsequently, Amanda attended what's now known as the Royal College of Music (KMH; 1869-72), Stockholm, where she studied violin, organ, piano and cello. Maier would also take courses in composition, and be the first female to graduate from the KMH with a degree in it.
This paved the way for further academic pursuits at the University of Music and Theatre "Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy", Leipzig (1873-6). Her violin teacher there was Engelbert Röntgen (1829-1897), who was concert master of the famed Gewandhaus Orchestra. and she also had Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) for composition. Incidentally, one of Maier's fellow students was British composer Ethyl Smyth (1858-1944; see 8 February 2012), who sometimes joined her for the frequent chamber music sessions held in the Röntgen household.
Amanda met Engelbert's son Julius there and, upon graduation, began a highly successful career as a concert violinist. Then in July 1880 they were married and moved to Amsterdam. However, with the birth of their first child, she gave up concertizing to care for Julius Jr., who'd also become a noted violinist.
The next few years were happy ones for this devoted couple. But Amanda was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1887, and the Röntgens subsequently traveled around Europe to locations with medical facilities where she could receive treatment. However, after a difficult struggle, she died in Amsterdam at only 41. Strangely enough, this echoes the unfortunate circumstances that befall the family of Russian composer Leopold van der Pals' (1884-1966), whom we recently told you about (see 31 October 2018).
Maier composed some thirty works that, except for her only Violin Concerto (1875), fall mostly into the chamber category. Some of the latter fill out this release, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program opens with her Klavierstück (Piano Piece) of 1881 [T-1], which is a delightful miniature built around an appealing, graceful theme [00:00]. It whets your appetite for the next work, which is Amanda's only surviving Piano Trio (1873-4), one for two violins written just prior to this having been lost.
This is a significant, romantic chamber music discovery that’s come down to us via an unbelievably circuitous route (see the informative album notes). The music lies somewhere between Brahms (1833-1897) and Grieg (1843-1907), both of whom were good friends of the Röntgens.
In four movements, Julius' diaries reveal he helped his wife put it in order and copy the parts. That said, the opening "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-2] is in sonata form with an opening statement (OT), having two main ideas. The first of these is a thematic concatenation of a rhythmically catchy riff (RC) [00:00] that's repeated [00:07] and adjoins a related, aspiring countersubject (RA) [00:14]. This is succeeded by a wistful RA-derived second thought (RW) [00:58] with an angularity reminiscent of Robert Schumann's (1810-1856) music.
RW is briefly explored, and then OT is repeated [02:10], bridging into an anguished development [04:22] with an exciting, virtuosic episode [05:04]. The latter heralds a dramatic recapitulation of OT [05:50], which invokes a frenetic RC-based coda [08:24] that ends the movement joyfully.
Next, a "Scherzo - Trio" [T-3] with fleeting outer sections [00:00 & 03:03] that are powered by an antsy tune of Mendelssohn (1809-1847) lineage and surround a lovely, related waltz [01:48-03:02].
The following "Andante" [T-4] is a gorgeous RC-related, ternary, A-B-A reverie. The "A"s are based on a tender tune (RT) [00:00 & 03:19], while "B" features a flowing variant of RC [01:30].
Then Maier serves up an "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast and with fire") marked finale [T-5], which is another sonata form creation, whose opening statement has two ideas. The initial one is an RC-reminiscent, delightful melody (RD) [00:00], and then the composer surprises us with a second [01:26] that's none other than our old friend RT from above.
RT triggers a captivating development [02:43], in which RD makes an unexpected, big-tune reappearance [03:46], succeeded by a somewhat sinister segment [04:11-04:46]. Then RD surfaces once more [04:47], beginning a recap, where RT soon returns [05:56] to some plangent cello-pizzicato [05:59]. This is succeeded by a jubilant bridge [beginning at 06:39] into an RD-based, manic coda [07:29] that ends the Trio elatedly.
Great music! And if you don't already know them, try Amanda's sole Violin Sonata (1873-8) and Piano Quartet (1891). Incidentally, there's good reason to believe husband Julius collaborated with her on the latter.
She wrote a four-movement String Quartet in 1877, but only the middle ones have come down to us in complete form. They're recorded here, beginning with the "Andante" [T-9], which has a tranquil preface [00:01], hinting at a somber, nocturnal theme (SN) that's soon heard [00:57]. Then SN undergoes an agitated exploration [beginning at 01:23], and returns [02:59] followed by a melancholy, closing segment [03:40] that ends the movement despairingly.
The other one is a scherzo marked "Allegro non troppo" ("Fast but not too quickly") [D-10], whose outer sections [00:01] & 04:20] have bagpipe-sounding moments, and feature a flighty, folkish dance number (FF). They surround a trio episode [02:57-04:19] with an FF-derived songlike melody, and close the movement as it began. This and its predecessor are real teasers for what probably would have been a significant addition to the body of romantic string quartets.
In 1869, while at the KMH Amanda wrote 25 Preludes for piano, which seem to have been student exercises. Eleven of them are included here and listed in the table below.
The winter of 1880 found Amanda and Julius happily married and living in Amsterdam. Then on 5 December, which is the Dutch holiday known as Sinterklaas (aka Saint Nicholas Day), they had a party for their good friends honoring the occasion. This was a grand affair, where the hosts entertained their guests by playing a concert of ten pieces. The program for it had a lengthy cover title, which began with the words St. Nicolas-Schwank (St. Nicholas Gathering).
These pieces were said to be by popular composers of the day. However, the four that appear on this CD (see the table below) are Maier-Röntgen, folk-derived creations, which have stylistic affinities with the music of Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms and Grieg. If they appeal to you by all means investigate their joint effort of two years later known as Schwedische Weisen und Tänze (Swedish Tunes and Dances, 1882).
The CD closes with Amanda's arrangement for violin and piano of Robert Schumann's "Abendlied" ("Evening Song"), which is from his Zwölf vierhändige Klavierstücke für kleine und große Kinder (Twelve Four Hand Piano Pieces for Small and Big Children, Op. 85, No. 12, 1849) and marked "Ausdrucksvoll und sehr gehalten" ("Expressive and very sedate") [D-23]. It was done sometime in the 1870s, and she omitted a few of the bass chords in the original, presumably to get a more transparent violin sound (see the album notes). Be that as it may, this selection brings the CD to a lovely conclusion.
All six instrumentalists featured here are from Sweden and make a strong case for Amanda's music. The core performing group is violinist Cecilia Zilliacus, cellist Kati Raitinen and pianist Bengt Forsberg. Cecilia and Kati are joined by violinist Julia-Maria Kretz along with violist Johanna Persson for the Quartet [T-9 & 10], and Bengt gets some help from pianist David Huang in the rousing fourth St. Nicholas Gathering piece ("Nach-Mittag's Potpourri") [T-15].
The recording dates and venues along with their geographic locations are given in the table below.
Despite the different dates and venues, these recordings present amazingly consistent sonic images. The musicians are well placed and balanced across comfortably sized soundstages in warm, sonorous surroundings. The piano is well captured over its entire range, but has a bit more percussive bite in the fourth St. Nicholas Gathering piece ("Nach-Mittag's Potpourri") [T-15]. The string tone is characterized by pleasant highs, a lifelike midrange and clean low cello notes. Everything considered, this disc gets an audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y181229)
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Mayer, E.: Sym 4, Pno Conc, Stg Qt, Pno Son, 2 Pno Pcs; Malzew/Kupiec/Tewinkel/Neubrand P/Klenke Qt/Tai [Capriccio]
RECOMMENDED (2 CDs)
On the high heels of the lady composer mentioned above, here's some music by German-born Emilie Mayer (1812-1883), who’s no stranger to these pages (see 31 October 2017). This invaluable Capriccio "twofer" album gives us six more selections from her substantial oeuvre.
These include one of her eight Symphonies, only Piano Concerto and first of seven String Quartets. All these recordings were coproduced with Deutschlandradio Kultur, and except for the Quartet, they’re the only versions currently available on disc.
The program begins with Emilie's Fourth Symphony of 1849-51, which comes to us indirectly as the original orchestral score is now lost. Fortunately, a four-hand piano arrangement published in 1860 has survived, and a reconstruction based on that courtesy of our conductor, German-born and trained Stefan Malzew (b. 1964) is presented here.
In four movements, the initial one is in sonata form and marked "Allegro appassionato" ("Fast and spirited") [D-1, T-1]. It's opening statement (OS) starts with a syncopated, commanding theme (SC) [00:01], which recalls combative passages in Franz Liszt's (1811-1886) tone poems (1849-82). Then SC is succeeded by a lyrical, flowing subject (LF) [01:40] worthy of Robert Schumann (1810-1856).
After that, OS is the repeated [03:08], giving way to a superbly crafted, dramatic development [06:00] and modified OS recap [07:49]. The latter has a thrilling AC-based coda [10:16] that closes the movement with the severity of those wrinkle-browed moments in Beethoven's (1770-1827) symphonies (1800-24).
The "Adagio" ("Slow") [D-1, T-2] is of operatic persuasion and opens with a lovely, aria-like melody (LA) [00:00] that's the subject of a troubled development [01:56]. This subsequently ebbs [07:18] into a horn-heralded, return of LA [08:18], which ends the movement full circle.
Then the music shifts gears as we get an "Allegro" ("Fast") scherzo [D-1, T-3] that owes a debt to Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Moreover, an LA-related, impish thematic nexus (LI) [00:00] fuels its outer sections, which surround a fetching, bagpipe-like trio episode [03:31] -- shades of Felix's Scottish Symphony (No. 3; 1842]. Then LI returns in stormy fashion [04:18], resumes its jolly demeanor, and with a last hint of those pipes [06:07], concludes this romp in the same spirit it began.
The final "Presto" ("Very fast") [D-1, T-4] is an aberrant theme and variations, where the main subject (MS) doesn't appear until after several of its variants. The first three are spunky [00:00], playful [00:34] and carefree [01:14], with the latter bringing to mind quainter movements in Schubert's (1797-1828) Symphonies (1813-28).
They’re followed by respectively excited [01:30] and heroic variations [01:38], after which MS finally reveals itself [01:47] as a simple, regal sounding tune somewhat reminiscent of LF in the first movement. It’s immediately succeeded by commanding [02:19], downcast [02:36] and despairing [03:06] treatments. Then the mood brightens [03:49] with perky [03:56], happy-go-lucky [04:17 & 04:36], stately [05:05] and martial [05:35] ones, after which a stern coda [06:22] ends the work forcefully.
Based some 100 miles north of Berlin, the Neubrandenburg Philharmonic (NP) under their then Music Director and Principal Conductor Stefan Malzew (see above) deliver a rousing account of this rarity. Hopefully, Maestro Malzew will give us some of the other seven Mayer Symphonies that have yet to appear on disc.
Made in 2012 at St. Mary's Church (Marienkirche), Neubrandenburg, the recording presents a recessed sonic image in a lively acoustic. The instrumental timbre is characterized by sporadically harsh highs and a somewhat undernourished midrange, but the bass is lean and clean.
Turning to the three-movement Piano Concerto, it was probably written in 1850 and has been criticized as a throwback to Mozart's day (1756-1791). However, Emilie's thematic material seems freer flowing and more in line with Hummel's (1778-1837) works in this genre (1811-1833), thereby making it somewhat less atavistic. Be that as it may, this elegantly crafted work easily stands on its own.
In three movements, the initial sonata form "Allegro" ("Fast") [D-1, T-5] begins with the orchestra playing an attractive, casual theme (AC) [00:00] and related, reflective countersubject (AR) [00:24]. Subsequently the piano picks up on both [01:43 & 02:00], and there's an embellished repetition of the foregoing [02:14].
This bridges [beginning at 05:31] into a captivating development [06:44], succeeded by the soloist evoking AC [08:40], which initiates an energized recap. The latter leads to a finger-fireworks-filled coda [12:44] that ends the movement joyfully with final hints of AC [13:15].
The winsome "Un poco adagio" ("Somewhat slowly") [D-1, T-6] starts with an AC-reminiscent, lyrical main subject (AL) [00:00] played by the orchestra. Then soloist and tutti give us back-to-back, AL-based episodes that are respectively inquiring [00:51] and introspective [04:09]. These bring the work and this first disc to a somber conclusion.
Pianist Ewa Kupiec gives a technically accomplished, immaculate account of the Concerto. She receives outstanding support from the NP. this time under German-born and trained conductor Sebastian Tewinkel (b. 1971), who succeeded Maestro Malzew (see above) as the orchestra's Director back in 2015.
The recording was made in 2016 at the same location as the Symphony, and from the orchestral standpoint, projects a sonic image identical to that (see above). As for the piano, it's centered and adequately balanced against the tutti, but comes off sounding a little thin.
Turning to the companion disc, we get the chamber music portion of this album, which begins with Emilie's Seventh Quartet. Taking into account the work's 1858 Berlin premiere, it was seemingly completed not long before that.
In four-movements, the opening one is a modified sonata form "Allegro appassionato" ("Fast and spirited") [D-2, T-1]. The opening statement (OQ) commences with a delicate, sighing theme (DS) [00:02] succeeded by three related countersubjects that are sequentially playful (DP) [00:51], buoyant [01:30] and antsy [01:43].
OQ is then repeated [03:17], giving way to a somber development of all the previous material [beginning at 06:12]. Subsequently, DP [08:01] ushers in a cello-predominant, reminder of DS [08:21], which engenders a darker-hued recap of OQ. This adjoins a DS-based coda [11:22] that ends the movement nervously.
Next, a tiny "Allegro assai" ("Very fast") [D-2, T-2] scherzo having sprightly outer sections based on a DS-derived, fidgety ditty (DF) [00:00 & 02:27]. They surround a pause-flanked, central trio episode with a couple of DF-related, folklike tunes [00:53 & 01:59].
Then the mood turns pensive in an "Adagio con molto espressione" ("Slow and very expressive") [D-2, T-3] movement that's a theme with variations of differing temperament. It begins with a DS-related, yearning melody (DY) [00:00], which is briefly explored, repeated [01:01] and followed by four episodes. The first three are sequentially discursive [01:30], consoling [03:04] and hymnlike, with some pious pizzicato [04:08]. Then an affectionate one [05:03] closes the movement on a loving note.
The "Allegro molto" ("Very fast") finale [D-2, T-4] is a vivacious, loosey-goosey sonata form offering. It starts with a DS reminiscent, chugging riff (DC) [00:00] followed by a jittery one [00:23]. Then the foregoing is repeated [00:39], giving way to a delicate, dancelike number [01:41] that bridges [beginning at 02:19] into a brief development [03:02]. This leads to a recap-like section, which recalls the movement's opening ideas [beginning at 03:37] and has a DC-based coda [06:04] that ends the Quartet definitively.
The internationally acclaimed Klenke Quartet (Klenke Quartett, KQ) delivers a magnificent reading of this, and considering the composer's gender, it seems appropriate the performers are all ladies. Incidentally, they're graduates of the Franz Liszt University of Music in Weimar, Germany, where they founded the KQ back in 1991.
Done last year at the Ölberg-Kirche Studio in Berlin, the recording projects a suitably proportioned soundstage in warm surroundings, where there's no hint of that confinement frequently associated with venues like this. The musicians are ideally spaced and balanced against one another, giving the music room to breathe. Generally speaking, the string sound is a mixed blessing as there are some shrill moments in the violins' upper registers. However, there's no hint of that bass hangover, which sometimes plagues cello recordings.
A sampling of Mayer's solo piano music, probably written in the 1860-70 timeframe, fills out this disc. It begins with her four-movement Sonata in D minor, which is an enjoyable work grounded in Beethoven and Schubert. The opening "Allegro" ("Fast") [D-2, T-5] is a superbly crafted, sonata form utterance with a couple of memorable main themes [00:00 & 00:29].
The "Scherzo" [D-2, T-6] abounds with Mendelssohnian pixilated moments. On the other hand, a subsequent "Un poco adagio" ("Somewhat slowly") [D-2, T-7] is choralelike, and brings to mind more somber passages in Robert Schumann's piano music (1829-1854).
Then the piece concludes with a virtuosic "allegro animato" ("Fast and animated") [D-2, T-8], which is the most progressive part of the Sonata and smacks of Chopin (1810-1849). It closes the work with a desultory display of digital dexterity [beginning at 04:26].
A couple of encores drawn from Emilie's set of Salonstücke (Salon Pieces) Op. 30 (complete work currently unavailable on disc) round out this album. And compared to the trivial, trite trifles usually characterizing this fare, these are first rate!
"Tonwellen. Valse" ("Sound Waves Waltz") [D-2, T-9] is an inventive, ternary miniature, where a jaunty waltz [at 00:05 & 02:47] surrounds a docile tune [01:31-02:46], and ends the piece haughtily. Then we get Marcia A-Dur (March in A major) [D-2, T-10], which is a high-stepping number that features a stately theme [00:00] and concludes this album festively.
Promising Chinese pianist Yang Tai (b. 1990), who studied under Ewa Kupiec (see above), is our soloist for these three selections. Her youthful, enthusiastic performances are tempered with careful attention to rhythmic detail and phrasing. Accordingly, she makes a strong case for some little-known works that represent a significant contribution to romantic piano repertoire.
These recordings were made a month after, but at the same location as the one for the Quartet (see above). They project a sound stage similar to that, but with Ms. Tai center stage instead of the KQ. Her piano is characterized by somewhat fuzzy upper notes in forte passages, but the middle and lower ones are pleasantly captured. While the album falls short of an audiophile rating, its musical content well makes up for any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P181228)
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Stanford, C.: Stg Qts 3, 4 (ed C.Ferguson) & 7 (assm J.Dibble); Dante Qt [SOMM)
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Not long ago we told you about a superb album with all of English composer Hubert Parry's (1848-1918) string quartets (see 31 October 2018). Now the adventurous SOMM label continues its investigation of those by his colleague, Irish-born Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924), giving us three more of his eight (see 30 November 2016), all of which are world premiere recordings. Incidentally, each is in four movements, the first and last of which are sonata form ones.
The Third Quartet of September 1896 was for the most part written in Milan, while the composer was on holiday, and completed late that month when he returned to London. It begins with an "Allegro moderato ma appassionato" ("Moderately fast, but with passion") [T-1], having a twitchy first subject (TF) [00:02] and lyrical, carefree second [00:38], which are explored. Then the music bridges into an antsy development [01:33] that gives way to a TF-initiated recap [03:32] with a stern coda [05:26], which ends the movement grimly.
Spirits lift with the next "Allegretto semplice" ("Moderately fast and simple") [T-2]. It's a graceful serenade based on a fetching, waltz tune [00:01] that appears in two variational guises. These are respectively halting [01:45] and sublime [03:10] with the latter binging the music to a tranquil conclusion.
The subsequent "Andante (quasi Fantasia)" ("Slow, and like a fantasy") [T-3] is an impressionistic, through-composed offering that's the Quartet's emotional center of gravity. This is a moving lament, in which Stanford shows his Hibernian roots.
Grief turns to jollity in the "Allegro feroce ma non troppo mosso" ("Fast and fierce, but not too agitated") [T-4] finale. Like the first movement, it gets off to a twitchy start, this time with a spirited dance ditty (SD) [00:11]. SD is followed by a related, gently swaying, folk-song-like tune (SF) [01:18], and after a brief pause, there's a capricious development [01:50].
Then SD once again makes itself known [03:04], sparking a recapitulation with the return of SF on the cello [04:11]. But SD soon intervenes with increasing fervor [05:08] and triggers a spastic coda [06:38] that ends the work peremptorily.
It would be 1906 before Sir Charles completed his Fourth Quartet, which was never published. Accordingly, we have Professor Colleen Ferguson to thank for the edition appearing here.
Like the Third, it opens with an "Allegro moderato" ('Moderately fast") [T-5]. However, this one has a rueful, anguished, first theme (RA) [00:01], which is immediately examined. RA is then offset by an innocent, complacent melody (IC) [01:47], which recalls tuneful moments in Schubert's (1797-1828) Quartets (1810-26).
Subsequently, the two ideas undergo a tonally contentious development [03:10], after which a fractious RA engenders a recap [05:38]. Here IC returns [06:20], taking on a more romantic hue, only to be shoved aside by that irrepressible RA [07:44]. This becomes highly agitated [08:50], but then runs out of steam, bringing the movement to an uneventful conclusion.
Next, a whimsical scherzo [T-6] that features a frisky, skipping ditty (FS) [00:00] and songlike number [01:23]. They give way to a related, shimmering trio [02:26], which closes the movement with an impish reminiscence of FS [04:07].
After that, there's a complete change of pace with the succeeding "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-7], which is a pious theme and variations, having the feel of a passacaglia. It begins with a devout, main subject (DM) [00:00] that's followed by four variant episodes. The first three are sequentially keening [00:54 & 01:31], angelic [02:02] and reverential [04:37]. Then a rapturous fourth [05:54] effects a final, peaceful denouement.
A terrific, virtuosic "Allegro molto vivace" ("Lively and very vivacious") [T-8] wraps things up. Its two resident ideas are a cheeky, skittering utterance (CS) [00:00] and a lovely, flowing melody (LF) [01:13]. They fuel a scampering development [02:40], which gives way to a reworked CS that initiates the recapitulation [04:02]. Here LF takes a welcome last bow [04:23], and Stanford includes a flashback to DM [05:47]. Then a thrilling CS-based coda [06:23] ends the work elatedly.
Stanford's penultimate Seventh Quartet, probably dating from 1918-9, fills out this release. Like the Fourth, it was never published, and the score for the version done here was assembled from a set of manuscript parts by British musicologist and Stanford authority, Professor Jeremy Dibble (see 23 January 2015, and his informative album notes).
The initial "Allegro ma con fuoco" ("Fast, but with fire") [T-9] is contrapuntally spiced and of disciplined demeanor. It has a pert, declaratory first subject (PD) [00:01] that's tweaked, and followed by a related, sinuous idea (PS) [01:01]. Subsequently, PD heralds a chromatically inflected development [02:33], and an imploring recap [04:17], where the cello evokes passages with nostalgic memories of PS [04:52]. These make a PS-tinted transition [beginning at 06:02] into a troubled, PD-based coda [06:02] that closes the movement despairingly.
The mood becomes a bit more hopeful in the subsequent "Andante" ("Slow") [T-10]. It begins with a mellow, wistful thematic nexus [00:00], which is the subject of a moving contemplation. This becomes briefly distracted [02:52-03:49], but ends the movement in the same spirit it began.
Then it's on to a fidgety, "Allegro molto" ("Very Fast") [T-11] scherzo. This smacks of Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) String Quartets (1829-47) and would seem to reflect Charles' studies in Leipzig (1874-5). Its outer sections [00:00 & 02:35] are based on a birdlike-pecking riff (BP) [00:00] with a folksy descant (BF) [00:03]. These surround a DF-derived trio [01:34-02:34] and bring the music full circle.
Wrapping things up, we get a fleeting "Allegro giusto" ("Lively and Precise") [T-12]. whose opening statement kicks off with a dive-bomber-like motif (OD) [00:00]. It heralds a couple of contrasting ideas that are respectively cantering (OC) [00:16] and Irish-Jig-inspired (OI) [00:47]. Then OD announces an evanescent development [01:14], which is succeeded by an OI introduced recapitulation [02:12]. But not to be outdone, OC soon reappears [02:39], invoking an antic OC-OI-fueled coda [02:53], which brings the Quartet to a merry conclusion.
The Dante Quartet (DQ) delivers rousing renditions of all three. Their commanding technical ability, attention to rhythmic detail and phrasing make a strong case for these too long forgotten scores. Although the remaining Sixth Quartet was never published, maybe with a little help from Professors Ferguson or Dibble (see above), the DQ will soon give us an equally provocative account of that.
The recordings were made in June 2017 (Third & Fourth Quartets) and May 2018 (Seventh Quartet) at St. Nicholas Parish Church in Thames Ditton some 20 miles southwest of London. They project consistent, comfortably sized, up-front sonic images in affable surroundings, and will appeal to those liking a brighter sound.
Depending on your speaker placement and/or system settings, the DQ may seem positioned a bit left of center stage. However, the musicians are well captured and balanced against one another throughout. The string tone is characterized by shrill highs, a pleasant midrange and clean bass with no hint of boominess in the cello's lower registers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P181227)
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