CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 MARCH 2019
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.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Vn Conc 3 (w pno instead of orch), Stg Trio, Vn & Vc Son; Various Soloists [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Born in Florence, Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (C-T, 1895-1968; see 31 January 2018) was a student of Ildebrando Pizzetti (1880-1968; see 31 July 2017) and would begin a highly successful career in Italy, where his music was championed by Alfredo Casella (1883-1947; see 31 January 2017) as well as many great artists of the day.
However, in 1938 Benito Mussolini's (1883-1945) Fascist regime promulgated anti-Semitic, racial laws, which resulted in C-T and his family emigrating to the United States, where they finally took up residence in Beverly Hills, California (1940). There he'd write film music, just as Erich Wolfgang Korngold (see below; 1897-1957) had done (see below and 31 March 2011). Consequently, he became one of Hollywood's most successful composers, eventually scoring some 200 movies. He'd also teach and could count John Williams (b. 1932) among his more illustrious students.
In addition to his cinematic endeavors, Mario continued to write for the concert hall and would leave a large body of works across all genres. Three in the chamber category composed after his arrival in the US fill out this new Naxos release, all being world premiere recordings.
C-T left three numbered Violin Concertos, the first two of which (1924 & 1931) have already appeared in these pages (see 23 February 2015). The Third (1939-40), which begins our concert, is a bit of an oddity. Moreover, it calls for a piano instead of the usual orchestra, and comes off more of a duo than full-blown concerto.
The answer lies in the fact that the work was commissioned by the great Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), who specified it should have a piano accompaniment. Apparently, he'd experienced problems playing reduced versions of concertos with a pianist standing in for the orchestra, and wanted a concertante showpiece, where the keyboard part was actually written out.
In three movements, this is a programmatic work, which the composer tells us is meant to convey his experiences of having to leave his native country for the New World. The opening "Drammatico" [T-1] depicts "the pain and upheaval" of his departure from Italy and begins with a troubled, weeping thematic nexus (TW) [00:01]. This undergoes a grief-stricken development [02:59] followed by a killer cadenza [06:35]. Then there's a TW-derived afterthought [08:57] that ends the movement somewhat hopefully.
The next one marked "Lento -- grave e triste" ("Slow -- serious and sorrowful") [T-2] is a melancholy offering based on a moving, TW-related idea heard at the outset (TM) [00:00]. According to the composer, the music represents a fond farewell to those slender cypress trees, which are one of the most characteristic features of the Tuscan landscape. Incidentally, this movement augurs the "I cipressi" ("The Cypresses") one in his Second Piano Quintet subtitled "Ricordi della campagna Toscana" ("Memories of the Tuscan Countryside" (1951, see of 31 March 2016).
Moving "Across the pond", the final "Molto moderato" ("Very moderate") [T-3] reflects the C-T family’s shipboard arrival in New York. Apparently, this movement was a little too far out for Heifetz, but by today's standards it's arguably the most inventive music in the work. We're told the mysterious opening [00:00] with its spooky violin glissandi represents their fogbound entrance into New York Harbor with the city's skyscrapers gradually coming into view.
Then there's a sudden burst of light, happy tunes [beginning at 01:06] meant to recall some that were playing on a passenger's radio. These surround a devout, cadenza-like episode [06:15-07:06], which apparently depicts a solitary nun praying on deck and ends the "Concerto" joyfully.
Ten years later Mario would write the two selections filling out this disc. The longer one at a little over thirty minutes is his four-movement Sonata for Violin and Cello (Op. 148, 1950). This is one of the composer's most inventive chamber works, and a real virtuoso showpiece.
The initial "Lento misterioso" ("Slow and mysterious") [T-7] opens with an undulating cello and descanting violin, playing a haunting, serpentine theme (HS) [00:01], which suggest that old harbinger of doom, the Dies Irae. HS is then tossed about and followed by a related, plucky, pizzicato ditty (HP) [02:54], after which the two ideas parent some rondoesque, developmental episodes. The last of these recalls HS [08:32], thereby bringing the movement full circle.
A flowing "Cavatina" is next [T-8]. This is set to an HS-derived, alluring melody [00:08], where it's easy to imagine an amorous duet between an itinerant Romeo (cello) and his lady fair (violin). Then the mood turns mischievous with a spirited "Scherzo" [T-9], having four, HS-related ideas that are sequentially antsy (HA) [00:00], laughing [00:15], serenade-like [01:29] and coy [01:55]. These are skillfully juggled about, giving way to an HA-triggered coda [06:24], which ends the movement frivolously.
The closing "Rhapsody" [T-10] is a weird creation that begins with a bizarre, two-part melody (BT). This has a starting cello riff [00:00], which turns into a Middle Eastern motif (BE) [00:08], recalling the violin melody heard near the outset of Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Scheherazade (1888).
Then BT is toyed with, and the violin plays an old familiar tune (OF) [03:28] frequently associated with oriental moments in 1940s films. Subsequently, OF fosters more BT machinations [04:03] that include a reminder of itself [07:29], after which the movement suddenly quits, leaving the Sonata in midair. Maybe C-T ran out of music paper!
A viola joins these proceedings for Mario's only String Trio (Op. 147, 1950). In three movements, the opening sonata-rondo "Allegretto grazioso" ("Lively, but graceful") [T-4] starts with a delicate, songlike idea (DS) [00:00] at times reminiscent of BE in the above Sonata. It’s succeeded by a related, coquettish countersubject (DC) [00:47], and the two undergo a moving exploration [01:14].
This is followed by a couple of DC-initiated developmental episodes that are of introspective [02:45] and lyrical [04:41] temperament. Then there's a DS-based, caressing coda [05:22] that ends the movement ethereally.
The middle "Nenia" ("Dirge") [T-5, 00:00] is in ternary form and based on a DS-complected, melancholy melody (DM) first heard on the cello [00:06]. DM is picked up by the violin [01:04] and viola [02:05] in canonic fashion, after which there's an imitative bridge [02:27] into a contrapuntally spiced, central episode [03:44]. This becomes agitated [05:10] and fades with the return of the opening measures [05:40], thereby closing the movement like it began.
We get a change of mood with the rondo-like "Vivace" ("Lively") finale [T-6] marked "Ritmico e balzante" ("Rhymical and Leaping"). This starts with an antic, jogging riff (AJ) [00:00] and perky ditty (AP) [00:08]. AP transitions into a related, frolicsome afterthought [01:45], which is explored along with AP. Then AJ returns [03:10] and wanes into a pensive AP-based episode [03:39]. The latter is succeeded by an AJ-triggered coda [04:26] with a last reminder of AP [04:40] that ends the trio perfunctorily.
These chamber rarities couldn't be in better hands than with the talented group of Italian musicians assembled here. Violinist Davide Alogna and pianist Fiorenzo Pascalucci give a stirring account of the "Concerto". Subsequently, Signore Alogna along with cellist Roberto Trainini deliver a technically accomplished, moving performance of the demanding Sonata. They're joined by violist Federico Stassi for a sensitive reading of the Trio, making this release a real find.
The recordings were made last year at two locations. The "Concerto" was done in the Galleria Alberoni, Piacenza, Italy, some 120 miles northwest of Florence. It presents a generous sonic image in warm, acceptably reverberant surroundings. Both instruments are beautifully captured and balanced against one another with the violin centered in front of the piano. The overall sound is characterized by pleasant highs, a rich midrange and clean bass.
As for the Sonata and Trio ones, they were done in the Basilica di San Vinzenzo, Cantů, Italy, about 200 miles north-northwest of Florence, and project an amazingly similar sonic image to the one above. Moreover, the Sonata finds the musicians comfortably spaced left (violin) and right (cello) of center with the viola between them for the trio. Romantic chamber music lovers as well as any audiophiles among them will be pleased with this disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190331)
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Eröd: Stg Qts 1, 2 & 3; Accord Qt [Gramola]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
One of the composers with the largest following in these pages has been Ferenc Farkas (1905-2000, see 31 January 2018). And he may soon be joined by his compatriot, Budapest-born Iván Eröd (b. 1936), who makes his CLOFO debut with this new, impressive Gramola release.
As a child Iván experienced the horrors of World War II (1939-45) with the occupation of his country by Nazi forces and resultant loss of family members, including his brother, who were victims of the Holocaust (1941-45). Then in 1951, he enrolled in music courses at what's now known as the Franz Liszt Academy of Music (FLAM), Budapest, where one of his instructors was Zoltán Kodály (1882-1967).
But his troubles began again when Soviet forces brutally crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and installed a culturally repressive, Communist, puppet government. This forced him to flee just before his graduation, and take up residence in Vienna, Austria (1957), where he started his studies anew at what's now called the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. There he was exposed to the dodecaphonic music of the Second Viennese School's composers and serialism.
Consequently, 1960 saw him begin using these techniques to produce a number of atonal works. But they met with little success, and around 1968 he returned to writing music that was for the most part along conventional lines. The three string quartets on this release (1975-2003), which are his only ones to date, fall into the latter category, these being the sole recordings of them currently available on disc.
The program gets underway with Eröd's three-movement First Quartet, Op. 18. Apparently written in the middle 1970s, the enigmatic album notes seem to imply it had a 1957, four-movement antecedent with an "Op. 6" designation (no further details readily available).
Be that as it may, the work has a ternary, initial movement [T-1], which begins with a "Moderato" ("Moderate") preface. This has a catchy cello riff (CR) [00:00] that's repeated and followed by a busy tune (BT) for the other instruments [00:09]. Then we get an "Allegro non troppo" ("Fast but not too quickly"), sonata form episode [01:19] with an opening statement based on CR and BT. It leads to a CR-triggered, ethereal development [02:22], succeeded by a BT-initiated recap [04:16]. This has a "Moderato", BT afterthought [06:13] with a closing reminder of CR [06:44], which ends the movement full circle.
Next, an "Andante quasi allegretto" ("Flowing and somewhat joyful") [T-2], theme and variations that smacks of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897), whose music Eröd has always admired. Moreover, the Magyar, waltzlike main subject (MW) heard at the outset [00:00] brings to mind subdued moments in the great German master's Hungarian Dances (1868-80).
MW is then followed by four variants, the first three of which are sequentially flirtatious [00:59], quarrelsome [02:02] and flighty (MF) [02:52], with the latter having glissando, avian-like cries [at 03:10, 03:17, 03:43 & 03:51]. Then the extended, contemplative, fourth variation [04:01] and opening statement (OS) of the concluding, sonata-rondo, "Vivace" ("Lively"), third movement [T-3] are played attacca.
OS has two, MF-reminiscent ideas, which are antsy (MA) [00:00] and somewhat serious (MS) [00:50]. These undergo a feverish development [01:59], where they chase each other about. But the music momentarily quits, and MA introduces a recapitulation [03:27]. This has terminal reminders of MS [05:23] and MA [05:36], after which a saucy snippet of MA [06:03] ends the Quartet offhandedly.
Iván's five-movement, Second Quartet would come a couple of years later in 1978. Structurally, there's a palindromic feel about it as the third movement is a pivotal point, after which the fourth and fifth relate respectively back to the second and first. In that regard, the work reflects the influence of Béla Bartók's (1881-1945) similarly designed Fourth (1928) and Fifth (1934) Quartets.
The initial movement is marked "Allegro risoluto, ma non troppo vivace" ("Fast and tenacious, but not too lively") [T-4]. It gets off to a wry, Hungarian-complected start with an arresting, initial motif (HA) [00:00], hinting at a splenetic, dancelike episode that soon follows [00:51]. Then HA returns [04:52], and the music wanes away despairingly.
This sets the mood for the subsequent "Adagio molto, con una bella tristezza" ("Very slow, with marked melancholy") [T-5], which opens with a soporific, lugubrious theme (SL) for the viola [00:00] over a snoring, pizzicato cello accompaniment. LS is then picked up by the violins and the music becomes dreamlike.
It then bridges via an ascending riff (AR) [03:32] into a middle "Presto" ("Very fast") [T-6] that begins with another AR [00:00] and a scurrying ditty [00:04]. The latter calls to mind Puckish moments in Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826-42) and makes this movement a delightful, scherzoesque diversion.
The fourth "Adagio, con una dolce vaghezza" ("Very slow, with some uncertainty") [T-7] commences with a radiant version of SL (SR) [00:00], which may bring to mind the "Aquarium" in Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) Carnival of the Animals (1886). However, there are no fish in this sanguine reworking of the Quartet's second movement. It concludes with subdued wisps of HA [04:46], which accelerate and intensify, only to suddenly stop.
Then after an anticipatory pause, we get an optimistic variant of HA (HO) [00:00] that launches the fifth and final movement, which is an ebullient, rondo-reshaping of the first. Marked "Allegro con brio, ma non troppo vivace" ("Fast with spirit, but not too lively") [T-8], here HO jumps joyfully about in thrilling, virtuosic passages for all. They trigger a manic coda [02:53], which then ends the work on a "Hungarian High".
Twenty-five years would pass before the composer would write his Third Quartet (2003). It's the most progressive and in a single arch comprised of four, palpable "movements". As performed here, the first two run together, after which there are brief pauses before each of the others. All are conveniently banded for easy access.
The opening one [T-9] is in modified sonata form, and has a "Sostenuto appassionato" ("Sustained and passionate") exposition. This consists of a thematic nexus (TN) with a commanding first thought [00:01], followed by a related, ethereal second [00:25]. Then there's a cocky reminder of TN [00:35] and the music turns "Allegro energico" ("Fast and energetic") [01:20] as we get three, chromatic, developmental episodes. These are sequentially folk-dance-like [01:20], fugal [02:07] and agitated [02:43].
They're followed by a troubled recapitulation [03:24], which bridges dramatically [04:56] into the second, "Lamento lamentoso" ("Sad and mournful") marked "movement" [T-10]. It begins with TN-related, sobbing passages [00:00] and a grief-stricken idea [00:28] that dominates this affecting, despondent dirge.
Then after a moment of silence, the music turns "Vivace" ("Lively") as the composer serves up a third, scherzo-like "movement" [T-11], which gets off to a vivacious start featuring a TN-related, cantering ditty (TD) [00:00]. TD takes on several forms that are increasingly reminiscent of TN, and subsequently makes a "Sostenuto appassionato" ("Sustained and passionate") reappearance [02:55].
This is succeeded by a brief pause and concluding, rondoesque fourth "movement" [T-12], which opens with a TN-related, "Allegro vivace" ("Lively and vivacious") tune (TA) [00:00]. Then the music turns "Presto" ("Very fast") as TA recurs in four different instrumental guises, the first three of which are argumentative [00:50], complacent [01:15] and haunting [01:47]. They're followed by a tension building caesura and spooky, fourth [02:20], which ends the Quartet in a ghostly mist with revenants of TA [02:47].
Formed in 2001 by four students at the FLAM, the Accord Quartet (first violinist Péter Mezö, second violinist Csongor Veér, violist Péter Kondor and cellist Mátyás Öliveti) has establish itself as one of today's finest. That's evidenced by these superb performances, which would seem to be definitive as they were done in the presence of the composer. Moreover, the Accord musicians' commanding technical ability, attention to rhythmic detail, phrasing and dynamics bring out all the intricacies of Eröd's music. In short, he couldn't have better advocates!
The recordings were made about a year ago at the Mozarthaus, Vienna, presumably in its Sala Terrena (Hall on the Ground Floor). They present an appropriately sized sonic image in warm, accommodating surroundings with the instruments comfortably spaced from left to right in order of increasing size. They're well balanced against one another, and the string tone is as good as it gets with conventional CDs. The overall sound is characterized by pleasantly bright highs, a lifelike midrange and clean bass with no hangover in the cello's lower registers. Audiophiles will approve.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190330)
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Korngold: Das Lied der Liebe (cpte opera, music aft J.Strauss,Jr.); Soloists/Klingele/LeipMusKom O [Rondeau]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Some of the music Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) would write in America has already been mentioned in these pages (see the Castelnuovo-Tedesco recommendation above and 31 March 2011). Now, the adventurous, Leipzig-based Rondeau Production label gives us a work dating from his earlier years in Europe, namely the operetta Das Lied der Liebe (The Song of Love), which would appear in 1931.
The idea for it seems to have come circa 1925, when Johann Strauss, Jr.'s (JSJ, 1825-1899) widow Adele (1856-1930) requested a complete revision of her late husband's operetta Das Spitzentuch der Königin (The Queen's Lace Handkerchief, 1880). Subsequently, Korngold, who was then engaged in writing Das Wunder der Heliane (The Miracle of Heliane, 1923-7), would work on one over the next six years. He'd then finally come up with what's featured here, this being a world premiere recording and the only version currently available on disc.
In the end, except for its JSJ melodic connections, Erich's redo would be a bird of another feather. Moreover, the libretto by Austrian doctor-turned-writer Ludwig Herzer (1872-1939) has an entirely different storyline, where the setting has been changed from the royal court of Portugal circa 1580 to Austria in the year 1910.
Unfortunately, the album booklet doesn't include the text, but there are sketchy German and English synopses. On that note, an extensive internet search failed to turn up Herzer’s libretto; however, click here to see another plot summary by an operetta aficionado we've referenced before (see 31 August 2018).
As for the music, Korngold borrows melodies from some of JSJ's other big hits, which we'll tell you about along the way. What's more, Erich’s opulent scoring adds that flamboyance, which makes his works so appealing. Incidentally, as presented here, there are sixteen musical numbers lasting around an hour, a few of which have a modicum of talking.
They're interspersed with fifteen, unaccompanied dialogue tracks that clock in at about 18 minutes. Fortunately, these are rigorously banded, so those not liking chatter can easily skip over them. For the purposes of this commentary, we'll summarize their content when it helps explain a particular musical selection.
The first of its three acts is set in an Austrian military outpost, where there’s a blizzard raging outside. It begins with a prelude and introduction [T-1] that include a flashy, festive fanfare [00:00] followed by perky passages [00:11]. Subsequently, the curtain goes up to a brilliantly scored, elegant march tune (EM) [00:39], revealing a Lieutenant Puchberg and another officer, Count Richard von Auersprach. The former then sings a comely aria [01:19] about a girl with beautiful, blue eyes, which is based on melodies from JSJ's Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald (Tales of the Vienna Woods) waltz (TW) of 1868.
After that, there's some dialog from the operetta's narrator, and the Count picks up on the "blue-eyed" number, expanding it into a lovely “Walzerlied” (“Waltz Song”) [T-3; 00:12]. We also learn Richard is destitute, having lost all of his money gambling, and thinking of killing himself. That said, his cousin Franz von Auersprach, acting Prince at the imperial court in Vienna, has sent him a telegram offering to pay his debts. However, he desires something in return!
Moreover, Franz has been engaged in an affair with a sweet, young thing named Lotte Hohenberg, who's an actress at the court theater. But he's recently met the beautiful Baroness Paulette Kerekháza and fallen deeply in love with her. Consequently, he wants the Count to cultivate Lotte and take her away, thereby allowing him to freely woo Paulette with the idea of eventually marrying her. However, he doesn’t tell Richard who his new flame is. And we should also note that the Baroness is a childhood friend of Lotte, who'll figure heavily in the next act.
Then as if by magic, Paulette and Baron Gigi Maria Josef Kerekháza, presumably her brother, burst in taking refuge from the tempestuous snowstorm. They're glad to escape the bitter cold, and sing a cheery duet [T-5], after which she delivers a lovely aria of Korngold design with JSJ overtones [T-7].
Consequently, Richard, who doesn't feature himself as a paid gigolo, dismisses Franz's offer and heads for his room. He then sees them, and not knowing Paulette is Franz's new love interest, immediately falls for her. This occasions a charming, spoony duet [T-9] for the two, after which the local parlor maid Tini and Baron Gigi engage in a flirtatious one [T-11]. The latter is set to an infectious, EM-derived, 1920-30s, saxophone-embellished, dance-hall-like tune (ED).
All this leads to a rousing finale [T-13] that starts with a moving scene for Paulette and Richard. It borrows ideas from the beloved Rosen aus dem Süden (Roses from the South) waltz medley (RS), which JSJ wrote in 1880 based on ideas that first appeared in Das Spitzentuch... (see above).
Then just when you think the act's over, Richard has some romantic afterthoughts [06:20], and goes off to his digs. Subsequently, there's a kitschy number for Gigi [07:40], who falls asleep, snoring heavily. But Paulette, having been spooked by the Count's amorous overtures, wakes him and says she's leaving for Vienna [09:32].
Soon thereafter, Richard returns looking for her and learns of her departure, Then the act closes dramatically with RS [11:41] and TW [11:54] spiced passages in which he declares his intentions to pursue her.
The next one transpires the following day at the court palace in Vienna and opens with what's billed as a "Walzer Divertissement" ("Waltz Diversion") [T-14]. This is an amalgam of motifs from RS [00:01] as well as another old favorite, JSJ's An der schönen blauen Donau (On the Beautiful Blue Danube; aka The Blue Danube) waltz (BD) [00:41], which dates back to 1866.
The setting is the entrance to a charity event being hosted by Lotte. But she's momentarily indisposed, and Paulette is standing in for her. Consequently, we learn the Baroness's aunt has told her all about the Prince's dalliance with Lotte. Thereupon, she sings a lovely aria [T-16] spiked with RS [01:13], which reveals she's now more open to Richard's advances.
He appears next, and it would seem suffers from poor eyesight, because he thinks Paulette is Lotte, whereupon "Fickle Dick" falls for her, and Franz's offer seems like frosting on the cake. This is cause for a passionate, "Korngoldian" duet [T-18], where the Baroness is totally unaware of Richard’s inner thoughts.
Meanwhile, Baron Gigi has taken up with the court theater's prima ballerina, Lori Fallhuber, and the two have a droll, celesta-sequined duet [T-20] set to EM. Subsequently, Richard, thinking Paulette is Lotte, courts her with a gorgeous love song, seemingly penned by Erich [T-22]. And she, still unaware that he believes she’s Lotte, returns his affections in a brief aria [T-24].
The Act II finale follows [T-26] with the Count continuing his amorous cantilena [00:39] that has wisps of RS [02:07]. But Paulette soon discovers he thinks he's been serenading Lotte, which is cause for her to reject him [04:08]. He then sings a tam-tam-reinforced lament [04:38], during which she leaves, and the act ends with Richard in despair.
The third and final one begins with a serene, pastoral, flute-and-harp introduction [T-27]. Consequently, we’re told that Richard has gone to an unidentified estate somewhere in Hungary. What’s more, he’s secluded himself, and ignoring all the activity currently underway in the neighboring town. We also learn many important people have arrived, and it's rumored there will soon be a big wedding for Paulette. However, there's no mention as to the bridegroom is.
The curtain goes up revealing the estate, and we get a capricious duet for Gigi and his new love Lori [T-29], in which he asks "Willst du die Frau meiner Traüme Sein" ("Will you be the girl of my dreams"). It's followed by an ED-like, fetching, nostalgic lied for Richard with more saxophone [T-30].
After that, we learn more details about the impending nuptials, but the husband-to-be still remains a mystery. Then a brief, RS-related number for all [T-32] brings the opera to a festive, surprise ending, and as for the bridegroom, you’re left guessing who the Baroness will marry!
Sopranos Lilli Wünscher (Baroness Paulette), Laura Scherwitzl (Parlor Maid Tini) and Mirjam Neururer (Prima Ballerina Lori) in addition to tenors Adam Sanchez (Count Richard), Andreas Reiner (Baron Gigi) and bass Hinrich Horn (Lieutenant Puchberg) are in good voice for this romantic romp. What's more they, along with narrator Cusch Jung deliver the spoken parts with amusing conviction. The Orchester der Musikalische Komödie Leipzig (Leipzig Musical Comedy Orchestra - LMCO) under its Director and principal conductor, German-born-and-trained Stefan Klingele give them excellent support.
A coproduction of Rondeau and Deutschlandfunk Kultur, the recording was made last year in the Bethanien Church (Bethanienkirche), Leipzig. The LMCO is spread across a comfortably sized soundstage in warm, reverberant surroundings with the narrator and soloists positioned center stage. In that regard, the voice quality is generally good, but the singers would have benefitted from wider spacing and a bit more highlighting.
Korngold's colorful scoring makes for an impressive orchestral sound, which is characterized here by lambent, occasionally edgy highs, an agreeable midrange and clean, rock-bottom bass. All in all, this disc is a must for operetta fans, and with music this captivating, any sonic shortcomings will soon be forgotten.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190329)
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Salzedo, L.: Stg Qts 1, 5 & 10; Archaeus Qt [MPR]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
At only fifty-seven minutes, this MPR release features three string quartets by English composer-conductor Leonard Salzedo (1921-2000) and is best summed up by the old adage "Short but sweet!" Born in London, Leonard was of Sephardic ancestry and a wunderkind, who started playing the violin as a six-year-old.
He began composing at age twelve, and the year 1941 saw him go to the Royal College of Music (RCM), where he took courses in composition from Herbert Howells (1892-1983). He also studied orchestration with Gordon Jacob (1895-1984; see 28 February 2018).
Upon graduation in 1944, he pursued a highly successful career that included playing with the London (1947-50), and then the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1950-66), where he was also an assistant to conductor Sir Thomas Beecham (1879-1961). Subsequently he became the Music Director of three prestigious, British ballets, but in 1986, Leonard decided to compose full-time. He did so up until 1998, when ill health forced him to stop and led to his demise two years later.
Salzedo left a significant body of works across all genres, except opera. with the string quartet being one of his favorite forms. He’d pen ten of them, which represent good cross-sections of his evolving style as these were written over the course of his entire creative period. Moreover, they date from his early days as an RCM student (1942) right up through 1997. The ones here include his first and tenth, as well as the fifth, which is a good halfway point, considering it was written in 1950-2, and later revised (1997). These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
In a single, continuous movement lasting around thirteen minutes, the Quartet No. 1 of 1942 [T-1] gets off to a dark, restless start [00:03] inspired by the opening measures of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) St. John Passion (1724). The music oscillates into a declaratory, rising-falling motif (DR) [02:55] that’s explored. Then after a short pause, there's a related, chorale-like melody (DC) [04:07], which is examined [04:49].
The foregoing wanes into another break, succeeded by two, DC-derived episodes that are respectively sorrowful [07:10] and serenade-like [08:14]. Next, there's a caesura and mystical DR-based passages [09:20], followed by an anticipatory pause. Then intimations of DC appear [11:52] and fade away, after which the piece ends with a solemn "Amen" [12:47].
The composer considered the Fifth Quartet (1950-97) one of his finest works. Structurally speaking, it's of Salzedo’s own inventive design and in two parts. Each of these "movements", so to speak, is somewhat like a theme and variations. Moreover, they have an opening amalgam of ideas that are the subject matter for several developmental transformations of different temperament.
What's more the composer, also being an accomplished violinist, calls for a number of special string effects that make this music all the more colorful. These include glissando (GLO), pizzicato (PZO), tremolo (TRO), trill (TRL), string harmonic (STH), bowing near the bridge (BNB), and tapping (TAP).
The Quartet opens with a thematic nexus (TN), having an initial hesitant, sighing thought [T-2; 00:00] and an adjoining, busy one [00:43]. TN is then followed by seven developmental treatments, the first four of which range from searching [01:24] to manic [02:40], doleful with some STH [02:59] and resigned [03:40]. Subsequently, a grieving fifth [04:23] and lachrymose sixth [05:21], having TRL-TRO ornaments [05:40], give way to an increasingly hopeful seventh [07:10] that ends the "movement" reassuringly.
The second part [T-3] begins with an eerie group (EG) of GLO-spiced thoughts, which are a combination of chordal progressions and an extended, serene melody [00:44]. Then a gentle ostinato figure in the viola [02:22] with cello-PZO accents introduces a set of EG-related, Sephardic-tinged dances. The first is flighty [02:40] and followed by a progressively agitated klezmer-like klatch of others [beginning at 04:30]. These have TAP as well as BNB effects and bring the work to an exciting conclusion.
Salzedo's Tenth Quartet (1997) is in a single span like the First. However, at a little over twenty minutes, it's a bit longer and in four readily apparent subsections with a short bridge between the last two. The initial one gets off to an exciting, "Presto" ("Fast"), moto-perpetuo (perpetuum mobile) start (MP) [00:01] with a scampering tune (MS) [00:05]. However, MS is increasingly interrupted by sighing moments [beginning at 02:40] that hint at a distantly related, wistful idea (MW), which soon takes center stage [04:05].
Next, MW initiates an "Andante lento" second section and becomes food for thought with a brief whiff of MP along the way [08:08-08:56]. The foregoing is then pushed aside by a bumptious, MS-related, PZO, "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") third [10:02]. But bowing resumes with a brief, MW-based, "Larghetto" ("Rather slow") bridging-passage [14:22] that’s followed by an anticipatory pause.
Then we get a final, fourth section, which commences with an assertive variant of MS (MA) [15:02]. MA is the subject of a stunning "Allegro con spirito" ("Fast and with spirit") fugue that's arguably the disc's high point. It ends this magnificent work in a blaze of contrapuntal glory.
About sixth months ago the highly acclaimed, British-based Archaeus Quartet gave us superb performances of some English rarities from the 1860-70s (see 31 October 2018), and now they follow up with these captivating accounts of three, twentieth century ones. As we told you before, the group's name presumably reflects the animate aspects of the Archeus principle, and in that regard, they certainly give new life to these undeservedly little-known Quartets.
Made over a three-day period in the summer of 2017 at St. George's Church in Benenden, some forty miles southeast of London, the recordings project a consistently narrow, somewhat withdrawn sonic image in pleasant surroundings. The performers are centered close to one another from left to right in order of increasing instrument size. That said, they would have been better captured with some additional space between them, thereby giving the music more room to breathe.
As miked here, the AQ's string tone is steely in upper registers, but the midrange is acceptable. As for the bass, it's clean with no hint of overhang in low cello notes. Everything considered, this album gives us serviceable recordings of some wonderful music, but falls short of an audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190328)
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Stöhr, R.: Vn Sons 1 & 2; Mathé/Faigen [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
More delightful fare by Richard Stöhr (1874-1967) awaits you with this third volume from Toccata Classics devoted to his chamber music (see 15 December 2014 and 30 April 2018). But first a few reminders about the composer.
Born in Vienna as Richard Stern of Hungarian-Jewish parents, his father was a professor of medicine at the University of Vienna (UV). Initially, he'd follow in Dad's footsteps and get a medical degree at UV in 1898. However, Richard would never become a full-time doctor as his interest in music prevailed! Consequently, he soon changed his surname to "Stöhr" and entered what's now known as the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (UMPAV).
He studied under renowned Austrian composer-pedagogue Robert Fuchs (1847-1927; see 31 March 2018), who also taught Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957; see above and 31 March 2011), and earned a doctorate in 1903. Then except for serving as a medic during World War I (1914-8), Richard went on to teach music theory and history as well as composition at UMPAV.
But with the rise of anti-Semitism under the Nazis, and Germany’s Anschluss of Austria in 1938, Richard like Erich emigrated to the United States and changed his last name to "Stoehr". He then began a long, highly successful academic career, and could count Samuel Barber (1910-1981) as well as Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) among his students.
Richard would also leave a large body of works across all genres. They include two operas, seven symphonies and a substantial amount of chamber music that subsumes fifteen violin sonatas. The earliest two, which are each three-movement works dating from his days in Vienna, fill out this CD and are both world premiere recordings.
The First Sonata (1911) opens with an "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-1], having a lissome, flowing theme (LF) [00:00] followed by two related ideas that are respectively martial (LM) [01:51] and wistful (LW) [02:39]. They’re the material for a rhapsodic utterance [03:31] worthy of Rachmaninov (1873-1943). And then LF returns [07:00], initiating a dramatic development that waxes and wanes into an LM-LF-LW recap [10:34]. This gets off to a perky fugato start, but somber reminders of LW [11:40] end the movement despairingly.
They set the mood for the next one that's initially marked "Andante religioso" ("Slow and religious") [T-2]. It has a thoughty preface [00:00] suggesting a somewhat LF-related, hymnlike theme (LH), which soon appears [01:45] and bridges into a brief LW-reminiscent serenade [03:03]. Then there's a pause, and the music turns "Andantino lusingando" ("Leisurely and alluring") with an LH-derived, tripping dance episode (LD) [04:42]. This makes a "trilly" transition into a nostalgic return of the opening measures [07:35], thereby bringing the music full circle.
The "Allegro giusto" ("Lively and precise") finale [T-3] starts with an LD-like, busy ditty (LB) [00:00] succeeded by a lovely, two-step countermelody (LT) [01:02]. LB then triggers a chromatically peripatetic, fugato-initiated development [02:09] of both ideas. This bridges with scalar runs [beginning at 03:57] into an LT-launched recap [04:22], which has an exciting LB-LT-based coda [05:59]. The later wanes into a forte, cadential "So there!", which ends the sonata definitively.
Twelve years would pass before Richard penned another one. His Second of 1923 begins with a sonata-form "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-4], having two happy, sibling themes that are respectively smiling (HS) [00:01] and nonchalant (HN) [00:31]. They're then explored [01:03], giving way to an HS-engendered, consummate development [03:36].
This becomes increasingly dramatic and is followed by a big-tune version of HS [06:16], which launches a recapitulation. HN soon resurfaces here [06:48] and is contemplated along with reminders of HS. The music then wanes into a thrilling, HS-powered coda [09:22], which ends things perfunctorily with another "So there!"
The next "Andante sostenuto" ("Slow and sustained") [T-5] is in ternary form with delicate, outer sections based on an extended, captivating melody [00:00]. They surround a tuneful episode [01:46-03:50] and bring things to a serene conclusion. As noted in the album notes, this music conjures up images of a Viennese coffee house. Moreover, a strumming piano and gypsy-like violin may bring to mind those winsome ditties Anton Karas (1906-1985) played on the zither during the Café Mozart scene in that classic, 1949 film The Third Man.
An "Allegro resoluto" ("Fast and determined") finale [T-6] of singular Stöhr design concludes the work and this engaging disc. The movement might best be described as a theme and variations, having a sonata-rondo superstructure. Accordingly, the exposition consists of a whimsical main subject with antic (WA) [00:00], rhapsodic [00:38] and chuckling [00:59] components, which are followed by enchanting, rhapsodic [01:37] and songlike [02:31] transformations.
Subsequently, WA [04:36] initiates an inventive development, having overtones of Richard Wagner (1813-1883). The music here is sequentially confident [04:57], insistent [05:13] and choralelike [06:16]. Then a commanding WA [06:50] heralds a colorful recap. This is by turns playful [07:14], nostalgic [08:18], flirtatious [08:54], manic [10:06] and triumphant [11:07]. Then a perky coda [11:34] ends the sonata ecstatically.
German violinist Ulrike-Anima Mathé and American pianist Scott Faigen give immaculate, spirited accounts of both works that in retrospect are significant additions to the body of romantic, violin sonatas. They make one eager to investigate Stöhr's other thirteen, which aren’t available on disc as of this writing. Hopefully Toccata will enlist these up-and-coming musicians to explore those in the not too distant future.
Made two years ago at the Clara-Wieck Auditorium in Sandhausen, Germany, about 100 miles south of Frankfurt, the recordings present a comfortably narrow sonic image in a warm, ideally reverberant venue. The instruments, which are positioned left (violin) and right (piano), are well-balanced against one another. But, depending on your system settings and/or speaker placement, the overall sound may seem skewed a bit left. Consequently, you may want to tweak your balance controls accordingly.
More specifically, Frau Mathé's superb playing suffers from an edginess in upper registers that's electronic rather than artist related. On the other hand, Mr. Faigen's Bösendorfer Imperial (1965) is beautifully captured, yielding a rich, well-rounded tone across its entire range. In conclusion, soundwise this release is a mixed bag, but in the long run, these magnificent sonatas will make you forget any sonic deficiencies.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190327)
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