CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 APRIL 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.
Ponce, M.M.: Chapultepec…, Estampas... (stgs), Instantáneas…, Ste... (aft I.Albéniz): Zapata/SanLuisPot SO [Toccata]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
Mexican composer Manuel María Ponce (1882-1948) makes a long overdue debut in these pages with this Toccata release, which is the first volume in their new series featuring his orchestral music. The extensive album notes tell us he was known as "the father of Mexican musical nationalism", and in addition to composing, he was an accomplished pianist, conductor, revered educator, writer and administrator.
Born in Fresnillo some 400 miles north-northwest of Mexico City, Manuel showed musical talent as a youngster and received his first instruction at home. Then in 1904, he pursued further course work in Italy, and 1906 saw him move on to Berlin where he studied piano at the Julius Stern Institute.
Returning to Mexico City in 1907, he joined the faculty of the Conservatorio Nacional de Música (CNM), where he taught piano. However, the social and cultural unrest brought on by the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) would change his way of life.
More specifically, starting in 1912, he "nationalized" his music by incorporating folk material. But an increasingly stressful environment led to his taking up voluntary exile in Havana, Cuba. He'd become an important musical figure there until 1917, when he moved back home and resumed teaching at CNM. He was also appointed conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra of Mexico.
Then in 1925, Manuel decided to seek his fortunes abroad and moved to Paris. He'd study with Paul Dukas (1865-1935) as well as Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979; see 22 November 2010) and become strongly influenced by the European composers of that time.
While in the "City of Light", Ponce's music began to receive international acceptance, and in 1934 he returned to Mexico City. He'd live out his years there as a highly acclaimed teacher, writer and composer, who'd leave around 500 works across all genres. Four in the orchestral category fill out this CD, these being the only readily available recordings of them currently on disc.
Things get off to a lofty start with a set of symphonic sketches titled Chapultepec. This was inspired by and named after a castle that sits atop a hill on the western side of the city. It was the composer's earliest, large-scale orchestral work, and had a long gestation.
He started writing it in 1917, and wouldn't complete the first draft until 1922. Initially titled Tres Bocetos Sinfónicos (Three Symphonic Sketches), this would undergo a couple of revisions. The last was done during Ponce's final year in Paris (1934), which seemingly explains why it sounds so impressionistic. At that time, he also changed the names of the outer two sketches and replaced the inner with an entirely new piece (see the album notes for details). Incidentally, both of the middle ones are included here [T-2 & 3].
The opening "Primavera" ("Spring") [T-1] begins with a thematic nexus [00:00], where shimmering strings and avian calls for the winds suggest a vernal, early morning, forestial scene. Then the foregoing undergoes a radiant exploration [02:12] that seemingly reflects the emergence of man and beast.
It’s followed by the later of the two, central sketches. This is titled "Nocturno" ("Night") [T-2] and hints at the melody for the composer's song Marchita el Alma (The Withered Soul). Here it's easy to imagine a moonlit lake with rippling wavelets and the nocturnal song of a distant mockingbird
Then we get the earlier one marked "Paseo Diurno" ("Daytime Walk") [T-3], which was ostensibly inspired by a zoological garden that opened in 1923 on the Chapultepec grounds. The longest sketch, it's a seven-minute tone painting that commences with prancing fanfares [00:00] and a high-spirited idea (HS) [00:26] that meanders into a folk-sounding tune (FS) [01:48].
FS undergoes a contrapuntally spiced exploration [02:30], followed by the return of HS [04:27], which leisurely transitions back into FS [05:51]. Then the latter builds into a glorious pastoral paean, which ends the sketch exultantly.
The album notes tell us the closing "Canto y Danza" ("Song and Dance") [T-4] is related to the composer's Preludios Encadenados (Linked Preludes, 1927) for piano and his orchestral Canto y Danza de los Antiguos Mexicanos (Song and Dance of the Ancient Mexicans, 1928), neither of which are currently available on disc. Be that as it may, this starts with a leisurely swaying melody (LS) [00:00] that becomes a vivacious dance [00:48]. This surrounds a reminder of LS [03:05], and brings the piece to a frantic conclusion.
Like the foregoing work, the next one had a lengthy genesis. It began life in 1908 as Bocetos Nocturnos (Night Sketches) for piano, which Ponce later expanded into a version for string orchestra titled Tres Cuadros Nocturnos (Three Night Pictures), 1912). Then circa 1923, he reworked the latter, added a fourth picture and renamed it Estampas Nocturnas (Nocturnal Engravings), giving us what’s presented here.
The initial "La Noche" ("Night") [T-5] is an impressionistic gem, whose opening limns gently, swirling night mists with an occasional shiver [02:54 & 03:17]. The music presages subdued moments in Schoenberg's (1874-1951) string orchestra version of Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night, 1899-1943).
Night turns to day in "En Tiempos del Rey Sol" ("In the Times of the Sun King") [T-6] that's built around a delicate gavotte [00:00] of 18th century French persuasion. It invokes images of an elegant ballroom scene during the reign of Le Roi Soleil (The Sun King, i.e., Louis XIV, 1638-1715).
An "Arrulladora" ("Lullaby") [T-7], which was titled "Dormi Piccolo Amore ("Sleep, My little Darling") in the 1912 version, adds a charming innocence to the work. This is succeeded by a mischievous "Scherzo de Puck" ("Puck's Scherzo") [T-8] that features a capricious ditty [00:00], which owes a debt to Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) Midsummer Night’s Dream, (1842) as well as more whimsical passages in Tchaikovsky's (1840-1893) Serenade for Strings (1880). It brings the music to a delightful, vivacious ending.
The concert started with one of Manuel's earliest orchestral works, and we next get his last titled "Instantáneas Mexicanas" ("Mexican Snapshots", 1947), which is a set of six, colorfully scored, miniatures. The first titled "Canto de la Malinche" ("Malinche's Song") [T-9] pays homage to an Aztec woman by that name (c. 1496-1529), who was the concubine of conquistador Hernán Cortéz (1485-1547), during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. She also played a key role as his advisor, and accordingly, this opening number has a primitive, presumably pre-Columbian feel to it.
So does the next "Música Indigena" ("Indigenous Music") [T-10], which takes the form of a solemn, archaic cortege. It's accompanied by modern day percussion instruments imitating the sound of exotic bells, metallic jinglers, maracas, rasps, and huéheutl (huehuetl) as well as teponaxtle (teponaztli drums.
Then Ponce serves up lighter fare with "Canción Popular" ("Popular Song") [T-11] and "Baile del Bajío" ("Dance from Bajío") [T-12]. The former is the winsome melody for a folk song known as Si Algún Ser (If Anyone Has), and the other, a spirited cavort from central Mexico.
The latter sets the mood for the closing "Danza I" ("Dance I") [T-13] and "Danza II" ("Dance II") [T-14]. These are orchestral versions of the composer's first two Cuatro Danzas Mexicanas (Four Mexican Dances)" for piano (1915-7). Both are binary structures that begin with tipsy passages, followed by amorous ones, the last of which ends the work euphorically.
The concluding selection on this disc is the first recording of Suite Sinfónica del 'Merlin' de I. Albéniz (Symphonic Suite after I. Albéniz's 'Merlin', 1929). This is an engaging orchestral work in four adjoining sections, whose themes are taken from an opera written by that great Spanish composer (1860-1909) between 1897 and 1902 (see the album notes). The parent piece is based on the legend of King Arthur, and its opening prelude is the foundation for Ponce's initial "Preludio" ("Prelude") [T-15].
This starts with a sinister idea (SI) [00:00], which in its operatic context characterizes the enchanter-wizard Merlin. SI gives rise to an amorous segment [beginning at 03:06] that waxes and wanes into the next "Andante" ("Flowing") [T-16], which is derived from a tender scene between Merlin and his Saracen slave girl Nivian.
Subsequently, she and her companions do a sensational, Arabian-flavored number, which is the basis for the succeeding "Danza" [T-17]. This bridges into a "Final" [T-18] that begins with festive fanfares [00:00]. These herald a magnificent melody (MM) [00:10] lifted from a scene in the opera, where it accompanies a hymn of praise for Arthur's brave knights. Then MM brings this capitol collaboration to a triumphant ending.
A couple of years ago the San Luis Potosí Symphony Orchestra under their founder and artistic director José Miramontes Zapata made a strong case for the music of Ponce’s compatriot, Julián Carrillo (1875-1965; see 30 September 2016). And now they do the same for him!
Taken from live performances done between 2015 and 2018 at the Teatro de la Paz (Theater of Peace) located in San Luis Potosí, around 250 miles north-northwest of Mexico City, these recordings sound amazingly consistent. They have that exciting spontaneity frequently lacking in studio productions. And what’s more, careful editing as well as touchups assure no extraneous audience noise or applause.
However, all this comes at a price! Moreover, it would seem the circumstances must have dictated a less than ideal microphone setup as the one here projects a distant soundstage in cavernous surroundings. As for the instrumental timbre, it's characterized by steely, bright highs, a somewhat confined midrange and distant bass.
Accordingly, this disc doesn't earn an "Audiophile" stripe, but with music of discovery such as this, we're lucky to have what's here. Incidentally, to these ears, this CD presented a much better sonic image on headphones as opposed to speakers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190430)
|- AVAILABILITY -|
Quayle, Matthew: Stg Qts 1, 2 "Sweet Insanity" & 3; Avalon Qt [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
In his informative album notes, American-born and trained Matthew Quayle (b. 1976) rightly observes the string quartet has always been an ideal musical medium for composers to express their innermost thoughts and emotions. He does just that in the three he's written to date, all of which fill out this new Naxos release. Moreover, these world premiere recordings augur a promising future for him, and hearing them, one can only hope he'll soon give us more!
The First began life in 2003 as a single, stand-alone movement. This was an idyllic remembrance of his childhood years, when he lived in a house along a rural road, winding through the farmlands of central New York State. Accordingly titled Gridley Paige Road, it would become the work’s initial "Andante espressivo" ("Expressively flowing") [T-1], which Quayle would augment with three more movements in 2005. He tells us the later ones are a commentary about the loss of youth and vicissitudes encountered while growing up in the real world.
That said, this opens with an extended, gentle, lullaby-like melody (GL) [01:01], which will pervade it. GL then undergoes two treatments, the first being playful and pizzicato-laced [02:40]. Subsequently, there's an anguished one [05:15] that brings to mind the "Molto adagio" ("Very slowly"), second movement of Samuel Barber's String Quartet (1936). It's followed by a brief pause and skittish GL afterthought [08:16], which brings the movement to an innocent, tranquil conclusion.
We next get a "Scherzo: Presto" [T-2] that begins with a GL-reminiscent, sardonic episode, which bridges into jeering, jazzy passages [02:00]. These end the movement definitively, and couldn't be more different from the subsequent, distraught "Andante serioso" ("Seriously flowing") [T-3], where there are weeping glissandi and sorrowful remembrances of GL [beginning at 03:47].
The latter transition directly into a final "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-4] that soon features a GL-derived, happy-go-lucky ditty (GH) [00:03], which is ostensibly a harbinger of better days to come. GH then gives rise to a spirited, dance episode [01:29] that wanes into a nostalgic coda [02:52]. The latter has pizzicato spicing as well as spooky, high-harmonic notes, which end the work ethereally, and the feeling that the future "is blowin' in the wind".
Quayle's Second Quartet of a year later (2006) is a nine-minute, single movement utterance [T-5]. He tells us it reflects some difficult times experienced in New York City, while he was a graduate student there. Consequently, this is an arresting, conflicted work that bears the subtitle "Sweet Insanity".
It contrasts a serpentine, sinister melody (SS) [00:00] with a related twitchy, twelve-tone motif (ST) [01:16]. Then the latter wanes into an SS-ST-introduced development [04:06] with strange meows [04:44] (maybe the composer had a housecat) and pregnant pauses [05:28].
This is followed by a frenetic ST-triggered recap [06:26], where a feline version of SS soon appears [07:13]. It gives rise to jazzy passages that intensify, but suddenly quit. Then skittering, pizzicato-initiated reminders of SS-ST [08:50] end the Quartet in pixilated fashion.
Some ten years later Matthew came up with No. 3 (2016), which is a horse of a different color! Moreover, it's in thirteen, terse, contiguous mini-movements at under three minutes each. These are a pastiche of varied styles and temperaments meant to reflect today's increasingly distracted world of wireless interconnectivity. Although separately marked, they generally fall into four groups.
The first "I. Semplice" ("Simple") [T-6] begins with a tender flowing theme (TF) [00:00]. It's brought up short by a "II. Straziante" ("Harrowing") rejoinder [T-7], having what seems like a reference to the final "Allegro assai" ("Very Fast") in J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) Third Sonata for Solo Violin (1720) [00:43].
This inspires a Baroque-flavored, antsy "III. Allegro" ("Fast"), highlighting the viola [T-8], which is followed by a "IV. Energico" ("Energetic") [T-9] rock-and-roll number with electric-guitar-like, barre chords. Then a wistful "V. Andantino" ("Leisurely") afterthought [T-10] ends the group in the same spirit it began and sets the mood for the next one’s opening segment.
It starts with a pizzicato-ornamented "VI. Valse triste" ("Sad waltz") [T-11], which suddenly erupts into an "VII. Allegro ma non troppo" ("Lively, but not too fast") [T-12]. The latter has dashes of the opening "Fate motif" in Beethoven's (1770-1827) Fifth Symphony (1807-8) [00:01], and that cat returns with some more meows [00:51] (see the preceding Quartet).
Subsequently, a highly agitated, twelve-tone-boned "VIII. Presto" ("Fast") [T-13] terminates this group in scherzoesque fashion. Then we get a short, sedate one made up of a TF-reminiscent, chorale-like "IX. Adagietto" ("Slow") [T-14] and a "X. Straziante" [T-15] similar in temperament to the one above [T-7].
After that there's a fourth and final group that's somewhat of a recapitulation. Moreover, this begins with a "XI. Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") [T-16], having nostalgic memories of the opening "Semplice" [T-6]. Then the music slides into an "XII. Easygoing", bluegrass-like ditty [T-17]. It’s made all the more colorful by the musicians knocking on the bodies of their instruments [00:12].
This suddenly shifts gears, and the Quartet closes with a sawing "XIII. Subito più mosso" ("Suddenly and very agitated") [T-18] that's a crazed extension of the foregoing tune. It ends the Quartet and this CD in a madcap manner.
The award-winning Avalon String Quartet (first violinist Blaise Magniere, second violinist Marie Wang, violist Anthony Devroye and cellist Cheng-Hou Lee) has been concertizing since 1995, and establish an international reputation as one of today's finest. Currently in residence at the Northern Illinois University School of Music (NIUSM) in DeKalb, 50 miles west of Chicago, they give technically accomplished, rousing accounts of all three selections. What's more, these would seem to be definitive interpretations as the disc was produced by the composer.
The recordings were made three years ago in the NIUSM Boutell Memorial Concert Hall and present a wide, up-front sonic image in pleasantly reverberant surroundings. All four instruments are well captured and balanced from left to right in order of increasing size.
The string tone is natural and characterized by lustrous highs, a rich midrange and clean bass without any hangover in lower cello passages. Those partial to contemporary music in this genre, as well as any audiophiles among them should investigate this album.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190429)
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Schreck: Christus, der Auferstandne (Christ, the Risen One); Soloists/Enders/Saxon ChC/CottbusStTh PO [Rondeau]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (2 CDs)
This release from the Rondeau Production label is of surpassing interest as it's the world premiere recording of a magnificent, 1892 oratorio by German teacher-composer-choirmaster Gustav Schreck (1849-1918). The performance took place last May, which was seemingly the first time the work had been done since 1902.
Incidentally, each of the two discs has around an hour of music, and the second concludes with a twenty-minute interview of conductor Fabian Enders [D-2, T-17]. However, those not speaking German will need a crash language course to understand it.
Gustav was born in Zeulenroda-Trebes about seventy miles south of Leipzig and grew up in a musical household. He first studied singing as well as piano in his hometown, and attended a college for teachers in neighboring Greiz from 1863 to 1867. Subsequently, he taught at a couple of nearby schools.
Schreck then moved to Leipzig in 1868, where he took courses in music theory and composition at what's now known as the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig (UMTL). His instructors included Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902; see 21 December 2012), as well as Carl Reinecke (1824-1910).
This led to his securing a position on the faculty of a German school in Vyborg (then Finland) some eighty miles northwest of St. Petersburg, Russia. He'd reside there from 1870 until 1873, after which it was back to Leipzig, where Gustav would spend the rest of his life. He’d have a highly successful career there as a music pedagogue and composer. Moreover, 1887 found him teaching at UMTL right up until his retirement in 1917.
The year 1892 saw him greatly honored, when he was appointed Thomaskantor (Choirmaster) of Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church), Leipzig. He'd remain in this capacity right up until his demise, and by way of a reminder, J.S. Bach (1685-1750) held this position from 1723 to 1750.
Schreck would leave a modest number of chamber as well as choral works. Two in the latter category are oratorios, the first of which titled Christus, der Auferstandene (Christ, the Risen One; 1891) is featured here. This has an operatic-like libretto by his wife Emmy (see the album booklet for German and English texts), who was a poetess and painter in her own right. It begins where the usual Christian Passion ends, namely Christ's Resurrection, and is in six scenic sections.
We should also note the work's individual parts were lost during World War II (1939-45). Consequently, they've been reconstructed from the composer's original manuscript. What's more, a piano score published in 1892 has an additional aria at the beginning of the final "VI. The Ascension" section for an unidentified "Mary" [D-2, T-10]. This has been newly orchestrated, and is also included, giving a total of fourteen singing roles as listed in the table below.
Three of the above have the first name "Mary", and there's confusion in the Gospels regarding them. But when all is said and done, two are Mary Magdalene and Mary Alphaei (aka Mary of Clopas). The third was most likely one, who was also known as Salome. That said, she’s not to be mistaken for the femme fatale that danced for Herod Antipas, and got Jesus' prophetic predecessor John the Baptist beheaded.
The scoring calls for a substantial chorus, which is for the most part a heavenly narrator, but on other occasions, the voice of Jesus' followers, Apostles and disciples. As for the instrumental accompaniment, it includes a good-sized orchestra plus organ.
The initial "I. Die Auferstehung" ("The Resurrection") opens with an "Overture" [D-1, T-1] that's a moving, fugal invocation. It begins with a subdued, devout subject theme (SD) [00:02], which builds to an inspiring climax and fades away. This sets the tone for four, subsequent choral numbers, which bring Brahms' (1833-1897) German Requiem (1857-68) to mind.
A doleful first [D-1, T-2] bemoans Christ's crucifixion, and is followed by an increasingly hopeful one, having organ support [D-1, T-3]. Then a "Hosanna" riddled third [D-1, T-4] and magnificent, SD-based, fugal, "Thanks be unto God" fourth [D-1, T-5] end this section on a religious high.
Sorrow initially prevails in the next "II. Der Gang zum Grabe" ("On the Way to the Tomb"), which starts with a sad "Prelude" [D-1, T-6] built on an SD-related, mournful, variant (SM). It's succeeded by a tearful duet for Mary Magdalene and Mary Alphaei [D-1, T-7], who've come with spices and flowers to consecrate Jesus' tomb. But they discover the stone that once covered it gone, along with Jesus' body. This is cause for a dramatic, timpanic roll of thunder [D-1, T-8], after which the two continue despairingly.
Then there's a lovely chorus of consolation to the words "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted" [D-1, T-9]. It's followed by the arrival of an Angel, who tells them Jesus has risen [D-1, T-10], whereupon, he suddenly appears. Subsequently, there's a moving exchange between him and Mary Magdalene [01:30], where he tells her to inform Saint Peter and his Apostles he's ascending to God the Father.
This engenders a joyful aria [D-1, T-11], in which she exalts him and his overcoming death. This is followed by a splendid chorale [D-1, T-12] with a text written in 1657 by religious poet Angelus Silelius (born Johann Scheffler; c. 1624-1677). It’s set to a melody related to moments in Mary's preceding aria and ends this section reverently.
Then we get "III. Die Jünger von Emmaus" ("The Disciples of Emmaus"), which is reminiscent of Der Gang nach Emmaus (On the Road to Emmaus) of thirty years earlier (1862) by Schreck's older compatriot Adolf Jensen (1837-1879; see 30 June 2015). But first a few words about what inspired this section.
To begin with, Emmaus was a village that may have been what's now Motza, Israel, which is some seven miles northwest of Jerusalem. Saint Luke's Gospel tells us that shortly after Jesus' resurrection, two of his disciples were walking along the road there, and he joined them (Luke 24: 13-24).
Accordingly, this part of the Oratorio is Emmy's version of what transpired between them. The scriptures name one of the disciples as Cleophas (aka Cleopas or Clopas), but not the other. However, she took poetic license and made him Barnabas, who'd later do missionary work with Paul the Apostle.
Be that as it may, this section starts with a lofty, fugal choral that reassures despondent followers of their future salvation [D-1, T-13]. Subsequently, there's a distraught duet for the disciples [D-1, T-14], where they recall the Messiah's suffering on the cross and implore God to "avenge his torments". Then Jesus appears and joins them, but they don't recognize him.
This gives rise to a discursive trio [D-1, T-15], in which he asks what their sad deliberations are about [00:00], and they recount the crucifixion. Then the two tell of some ladies visiting Jesus' sepulcher, only to find it open and empty [01:29]. They conclude by saying somewhat skeptically that the women had encountered an Angel, who said that Jesus was alive.
Consequently, he rebukes them [02:20] for not believing the prophets, who foretold he'd live again. This is cause for a short chorus [D-1, T-16], beginning with "He shall swallow up death in victory...", which punctuates his admonishment. Then having discovered their fellow traveler's true identity, they sing a moving duet [D-1, T-17], inviting him to share the sacrament of bread and wine with them.
It's followed by an imploring, "Abide with us, Lord Jesus Christ..." chorale [D1, T-18] with a text written in 1551 by Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchthon (born Philipp Schwartzerdt; 1497-1560). Subsequently, Jesus gives them Communion [D-1, T-19], and they sing a gladsome duet [D-1, T-20], praising him as the "Messiah". Then the two leave to tell the people of Jerusalem about his Resurrection, thereby foreshadowing the next section.
Returning to this one, there's a hushed, organ bridge [02:05] into an extended, devotional chorale [D-1, T-21] with a text written in 1822 by Protestant Pastor Johann Friedrich Möller (1789-1861). It’s set to a sublime, SM-like tune and moving, subdued orchestral accompaniment [02:42]. Then there's a pious thought for solo organ [01:25-01:38] and moment of silent prayer [02:42-02:45], after which this section ends with a reverent, orchestral epitaph [03:16].
The next "IV. In Jerusalem" finds us there and begins with a moving, woeful chorus of the Christian town folk [D-2, T-1]. They sing an allegorical narrative lamenting Jesus' death, and fearful of what's to come, seek protection within the city's walls. Subsequently, they're joined by Mary Alphaei, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, Cleophas and Barnabas, who except for Thomas declare "Christ is risen and has appeared to us in person" [D-2, T-2]. However, the villagers dismiss their claims as idle tales [00:46].
What's more, Thomas soon earns his sobriquet "Doubting Thomas", singing he won't believe this unless he sees the spike marks through Jesus' palms and can thrust his hand into the Roman spear wound on his side [01:41]. This triggers a dramatic number for the two Marys, Cleophas and Barnabas, where they declare "Christ is Risen!" [02:10], which the chorus rejects as a "mirage" brought on by longing, fear and sorrow.
Then a closing drumroll transitions into a touching episode for Jesus, Thomas and the chorus [D-2, T-3], in which it becomes apparent he's the risen Christ. This is followed by a sublime scene for everyone [D-2, T-4], where they deliver a moving acknowledgement of their renewed faith.
The succeeding "V. Am See Tiberius" (“At lake Tiberias”) takes place some 75 miles north of Jerusalem, the scene being that body of water also known as the Sea of Galilee. It begins with a chorus of Jesus' followers having soprano, alto (contralto), tenor and bass solos by anonymous proponents of the faith [D-2, T-5].
They sing the Lord's praises, and then after a pause we get a pizzicato-prefaced chorus of his disciples [D-2, T-6], who include John and Peter. It begins with that well-known biblical incident by the lake where his apostles had been fishing, but caught nothing. Consequently, they're sailing home and see Jesus, whom they don't recognize, standing on the shore.
He tells them [02:06] to go back out and cast their nets on the other side of the boat, which they do, thereby making a fabulous catch! Then upon their return, they once again see Jesus, and exclaim in astonishment, "O what a blessing! Who art thou, who works such miracles?" [02:46]. Subsequently, John declares "It's the Lord" [03:48], which the others, including Peter, joyfully reiterate. Accordingly, the music segues into a glorious number for all the followers, where they praise and thank Jesus [D-2, T-7].
This is followed by a dramatic pause and pious exchange between Jesus and Peter [D-2, T-8], in which the Lord tells him to "Feed my sheep". It portends Peter becoming the leader of what would be the Catholic Church, and consequently the world's first Pope. A euphoric "Crown of life" chorus then ends this section warmly.
The final "VI. Die Himmelfahrt” (“The Ascension") begins [D-2, T-10] with that reconstructed “Mary” aria mentioned above. She praises the Messiah's return, and after a brief pause, there's a portentous, orchestral chord [D-2, T-11], followed by Jesus singing a verse that ends "The time has come to part from you."
Subsequently the other two Marys along with John, Peter and the disciples have a touching, ensemble number [D-2, T12], where they entreat him not to leave. But in a deeply felt passage [D-2, T-13], Jesus says [00:00] his kingdom is not of this world, and adjures them [00:25] to go forth, teaching all the things they've learned from him. He then declares [01:12] "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" and in a wistful passage [01:52], blesses them.
A humbled assemblage next describes his Ascension. The foregoing is set to a heavenly accompaniment and one of the work’s most inspired moments [D-2, T-14]! It wanes into a pianissimo, organ postscript, succeeded by the return of that Angel [D-2, T-15], who hints at Christ's Second Coming.
Then there's an SD-related, resplendent, "Hosannafied' finale for all [D-2, T-16]. It ends this wonderful Oratorio resplendently with a triumphant "Amen" [04:46] and commanding, organ-timpani-fortified postscript for full orchestra [05:09].
The soloists (see the above table) are in fine form and render convincing accounts of their respective roles. They're given magnificent support from the Saxon Chamber Choir, which includes former members of the legendary St. Thomas Boys Choir, and Cottbus State Theater Philharmonic Orchestra along with organist Wolfgang Kupke. All are under up-and-coming, German conductor Fabian Enders (b. 1986).
Like each of the aforementioned Ponce recordings, this was from a live performance. It took place in 2018 at Thomaskirche (St. Thomas Church), Leipzig, and again there's an exciting spontaneity frequently missing in studio productions. Also, adept editing has eliminated any extraneous audience noise or applause.
But as before, it would seem a less than ideal microphone setup results in an overall sound like that on the Ponce disc (see above). That said, the voice quality is generally acceptable with the singers adequately balanced against orchestra and organ.
Taking all this into account, the album doesn't earn an "Audiophile" rating; however, with a musical discovery such as this, we're lucky to have what's here. Incidentally, the comment regarding headphones also applies.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190428)
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Twardowski: Vn Conc, Cap…, Fantazja…, Nigginim… (all vn & orch), Seren (stg orch); Augustyn/Smolij/Toruń SO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
With this recent Naxos disc, Polish composer Romuald Twardowski (b. 1930) makes his CLOFO debut. Born in Vilnius, Lithuania, some 300 miles northeast of Warsaw, he began studying violin, piano and organ in his hometown, during the 1940s. Then the year 1952 saw Romuald enroll at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Vilnius, where he took composition lessons (1952-57).
Upon graduation in 1957, he moved on to Warsaw for an additional three years of courses at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music (FCUM), and would spend another three in Paris (1963-66), studying with the doyenne of twentieth century music teachers, Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979, see the newsletter of 22 November 2010). Twardowski then returned to Warsaw, and being a strong advocate of music education for the young, has led a distinguished career as a professor at the FCUM.
He's produced a significant body of works, and the string's the thing on this engaging Naxos disc. Moreover, it’s filled with four concertante pieces for violin and orchestra, plus a string serenade. Currently, these are the only recordings of the versions done here.
The composer has said he greatly admires J.S. Bach (1685-1750) and considers himself a "born contrapuntist". Consequently, his works reflect a stylistic trend known as the "New Simplicity" that began in Germany during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its predominant feature is clarity of expression, and many will already be familiar with this concept as it's apparent in the music of Twardowski's compatriot Henryk Górecki (1933-2010), as well as that of Henryk's son Mikolaj (b. 1971; see 23 September 2013).
Romuald's Serenade for string orchestra of 2003 is a good example of the foregoing. Written for students at one of Warsaw's music schools, the first of its three, terse movements is in sonata form. Marked "Allegro non troppo" ("Lively, but not too fast") [T-3], this begins with a whimsical, bustling motif (WB) [00:00] and a related, coquettish idea (WC) [00:14]. The two are followed by an antsy development [01:03], after which a WB-initiated recap [02:36] brings the music full circle.
The next "Andante espressivo" ("Expressively flowing") [T-4] opens with a WC-derived, wistful, sighing subject (WS) [00:00] and is aptly described by the composer as "full of lyrical reverie". Then WS undergoes three treatments of different temperament. These are respectively sunny [00:23], anxious [01:32] and searching [02:56] with the last ending the movement in dreamland.
Unlike his compatriots Simon Laks (1901-1983; see 31 October 2017) and Grazyna Bacewicz (1909-1969; see 30 June 2018), Twardowski is generally not one to borrow Polish folk tunes, but the closing "Con brio" ("With spirit") [T-5] is an exception. It's based on the Polish oberek, which is a mazurka on amphetamines and concludes this fetching Serenade as marked.
Turning to the concertante works, the most recent here is the composer's only Violin Concerto of 2006, which has a string orchestra accompaniment. In three movements, the opening one [T-6] begins "Grave" ("Gravely") with a gentle, swaying tutti [00:00], over which the soloist plays a relaxed, rising, three-note motif (RR) [00:12]. RR is the stem cell, from which most of the works thematic material grows, and immediately initiates an extended, chromatically peripatetic melody (RP).
RP engenders a lovely rhapsody, where the violin plays continuously over lush strings. Then the music becomes "Più mosso" ("More lively"), but gradually fades, and the soloist hints [06:08] at an RR-related, berceuse-like tune (RB).
RB follows forthwith, inaugurating the next "Andante" ("Slow") [T-7]. Its beginning [00:00] is somewhat like that of its predecessor, but with the violin playing RB [00:22]. This is cause for a winsome serenade that ends the movement tranquilly.
Subsequently, we get a closing, rondoesque "Allegro deciso" ("Fast with determination") [T-8], which starts with a couple of brief flourishes [00:00]. These presage an RP-derived, scurrying ditty (RS) [00:10] that undergoes a masterful, articulate development [00:53]. It gives way to a lengthy, demanding cadenza [03:40-05:56], after which the tutti and soloist return with a contentious version of RS [05:57] that closes the Concerto in cheeky fashion.
The three remaining selections show different ethnic influences, namely American, Hasidic and Spanish. All were originally for violin and piano, but they appear here in later incarnations, having orchestral accompaniments.
The earliest is Capriccio in Blue 'George Gershwin in memoriam' (1979; original not currently available on disc) [T-10]. This begins with a cadenza for the soloist [00:00], where there are suggestions of a jazzy, Gershwinesque number (JG) soon to follow. Then the orchestra sashays in [01:02], and the violin plays JG [01:09], which hints at the opening idea of George's (1898-1937) Rhapsody in Blue (1924, revised 1942).
JG is followed by some delightful variations, the first two being lyrically mellow (JM) [02:01] and agitated (JA) [03:01]. Then there's a bluesy third, which starts with a clarinet solo [04:46], recalling the slippery one at the beginning of George's piece. It's succeeded by a JA-like fourth [06:19], that slows into reminders of JM [07:37] and a pensive cadenza [08:12-08:41]. The latter adjoins a vivacious, JG-based coda [08:42], which ends the piece triumphantly.
Incidentally, seven years later Romuald would also write Symphonic Variations on a Theme by George Gershwin for solo percussion and orchestra (1986). Unfortunately, this isn't currently available on disc -- How about it, Naxos!
But returning to the music at hand, that clarinet introduces the Hasidic-related selection, titled Niggunim 'Melodies of the Hasidim' (1991) [T-9], where niggunim is the plural of niggun (also spelled "nigun"), which is a Jewish religious song. Here the composer borrows the melodies of several from the Góra Kalwaria region of Poland for this ethnically flavored work -- shades of the Sephardic passages towards the end of Salzedo's (1921-2000) Fifth String Quartet (1950-97; see 31 March 2019).
The opening one is a relaxed, Middle Eastern tune (RM) [00:00] that's soon picked up by the rest of the orchestra [00:38] and soloist [00:43]. The violin then contemplates RM, and the tutti introduce an exotic episode [02:58] based on a furtive idea [03:05]. This has asides for the soloist that culminate in a cadenza [06:10-06:22], after which the orchestra initiates excited passages [06:25].
These have virtuosic violin embroidery and give way to a more protracted cadenza [08:53-10:07]. Subsequently, the oboe introduces an RM-reminiscent, cock-a-doodle-doo-like ditty [10:08] that triggers a whimsical epilogue. It has reminders of past ideas and ends the work with a 😊.
Fantazja hispanska (Spanish Fantasia, 1984) was inspired by a trip the composer made to Spain, where he was very taken with the Flamenco music of the Gypsy people (gitanos) living in and around Andalusia. Consequently, he concocted this work, where he doesn't actually quote any folk material, but comes up with stylistically similar ideas of his own. In that regard it brings to mind Chabrier's (1841-1894) España (1883; see 31 July 2013), Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Capriccio espagnol (1887) and Ravel's Rhapsodie espagnole (1907-8).
In two parts, the opening "Improvisación" [T-1] starts with a cocky fanfare (CF) for full orchestra [00:01], followed by some related flourishes from our old friend of the previous two works, the clarinet [00:13]. Then the soloist joins the proceedings [00:37] and we get an austere, CF-spiked recitative [01:06] for violin and tutti.
This sets the stage for the succeeding "Danza" [T-2] that begins with more CF-like passages [00:00] for all. They engender a macho dance number played by the soloist [00:30], which is set to a brilliantly scored tutti accompaniment and leads to a killer, Iberian-spiced cadenza [03:33-04:50]. Then pizzicato violin notes summon the orchestra [04:54] for a tuneful, castanet-accented [05:21], final fandango. It becomes increasingly frenetic and ends the Fantasia perfunctorily with hands held high and a defiant toss of the head.
Polish violinist Kinga Augustyn has in the past championed music by her countrymen and certainly makes a strong case for these four concertante works. She receives magnificent support from the Toruń Symphony Orchestra (TSO) under their music director Mariusz Smolij, who's no stranger to these pages (see 31 August 2016). The latter also deliver a rousing account of the Serenade. There's an overall lightness of touch in these performances that gives a clarity to this music much in keeping with the "New Simplicity" mentioned above.
These recordings were sponsored by several, key, Polish cultural institutions along with the City of Toruń, which is around 115 miles northwest of Warsaw. Made over a four-day period in 2017 at the Karol Szymanowski Hall located there, they present an adequately sized sonic image in pleasant surroundings.
The soloist is positioned center stage and ideally captured as well as balanced against the TSO. The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by acceptably bright highs, a convincing midrange and clean bass with no low string hangover. While this conservatively scored music doesn't make for a "knock-your-socks-off" demonstration disc, "pointy-eared" audiophiles will find little to grouse about.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190427)
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Woyrsch: Syms 4 & 5, Szenen zu Goethes Faust: Gartenszene...; Dorsch/HanNDR P [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Little-known, romantic German orchestral music is standard fare on CPO releases, and this one gives us another two of Felix Woyrsch's (1860-1944) symphonies (see 27 August 2012 and 30 April 2015), both of which are four-movement works dating from the 1930s. They're accompanied by a short, tone-poem-like piece written shortly before his death, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
Felix was born of Czech parents in Opava, around 150 miles east of Prague, and showed musical abilities as a child. However, his father's passing when he was only six put a financial strain on the family. Consequently, the boy's early musical training was haphazard and amateurish.
That changed when the surviving Woyrschs moved to Hamburg, where his talents were discovered by a local conductor-teacher, who proceeded to give him free piano and music theory instruction. He also took part in concerts and church performances, while undertaking a rigorous, self-study program of scores by such greats as Palestrina (1525-1594), Bach (1685-1750), Mozart (1756-1791), Beethoven (1770-1827), Schumann (1810-1856), Berlioz (1803-1869), Wagner (1813-1883) and Brahms (1833-1897).
His career was well established by 1895, and 1914 saw him become Music Director of the Hamburg Philharmonic, a position he'd hold until 1931. During this period and right up until his retirement in 1937, Felix championed the music of such promising contemporaries as Alfredo Casella (1883-1947; see 12 July 2012), Leó Weiner (1885-1960; see 31 December 2017), Kurt Atterberg (1887-1974; see 10 November 2014) and Hans Gál (1890-1987; see 31 August 2018).
An active composer from the early 1880s until shortly before his demise, Woyrsch would leave a significant oeuvre across all genres. These include an early study symphony (1884, currently unavailable on disc), and six numbered ones written between 1908 and 1939.
Our program begins with the Fourth of 1930, which opens "Mäßig bewegt, nicht übereilt' (Moderately moving, but not hurried") [T-1]. This sonata form offering has an opening statement comprised of three, related thematic groups that are successively flippant (OF) [00:02], retiring (OR) [02:02] and martial (OM) [02:37].
An antsy, sequentially laced development follows [03:23] with a couple of new ideas related to OF and OM respectively [04:13 & 04:29]. Then the return of OF [05:02] and OR [05:10] announce a compressed recapitulation followed by a developmental coda [07:06]. The latter gets off to a spirited start, and subsequent hints of past motifs bring the movement to a resigned ending.
The succeeding "Langsam, ausdrucksvoll" ("Slow and expressive") [T-2] recalls the adagios in Bruckner's (1824-1896) later symphonies (1875-96). This has an initial, pious theme (IP) [00:00] that undergoes six treatments of varying temperament. The first five range from searching [01:36] to romantic [02:39], agitated [04:04], confident [05:37] and blithe [07:04]. Then a heroic sixth [08:11] abets a valiant conclusion.
Felix next conjures up a "Menuett im Rokokostil mit Variationen" ("Minuet in rococo style with variations") [T-3]. Like Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Le Bourgeois gentilhomme music of 1918 for Moliere's (1622-1673) eponymous play (1670), this is an atavistic creation with an opening subject [00:00], which is a Baroque dance of Woyrisch fabrication. It's followed by four variants that are bustling [00:55], graceful [02:03], fugally fickle [03:54] and happy-go-lucky [05:46]. Then a brief coda [06:54] ends things in jaunty fashion.
The work closes "Nicht zu schnell, doch feurig und rhythmisch belebt" ("Fiery and rhythmically animated, but not too fast") [T-4], this movement being structurally similar to the first. Accordingly, it's another sonata form contrivance, having an opening statement with three, related thematic groups.
The initial one has a jaunty preface (OJ) [00:00], hinting at a hymnlike subject (OH) that engenders a couple of vivacious, fugal diversions [00:41 & 01:23]. This is followed by a songlike second [01:46] and churning third [02:08].
The foregoing ideas are astutely developed [02:38]. Then OJ surfaces [03:59], announcing the recapitulation, which is a significantly altered version of the opening statement (see the exhaustive album notes for more details). All this elicits an OH-triggered, contrapuntally spiked, extended coda [06:06] that brings the work to an exciting conclusion.
Some fifteen minutes shorter than its predecessor, the Fifth Symphony of 1935 is a more compact utterance. Its sonata form, first movement, which is marked "Belebt" ("Animated") [T-5], begins with a flighty thought (AF) [00:01] that's soon followed by a related, songlike second (AS) [00:55].
They undergo a mischievous development [01:50], succeeded by an AF-triggered recap [02:41]. Then there's a deceptive pause and As-derived, initially subdued coda [04:25]. This strengthens and the movement concludes definitively with a dramatic, timpani-reinforced passage [05:04].
The subsequent "Sehr langsam" ("Very slow") [T-6] is a chromatically suffused counterpart of the second movement in the above Symphony, and opens with a wistful, yearning idea (WY) [00:00]. WY is followed by four transformations of differing mood, which are sequentially sanguine [01:29], searching [02:28], anxiety-filled [03:11] and increasingly confident [03:49]. Then the latter wanes into a WY-derived coda [05:46] that ends things tranquilly.
Introspection turns to whimsy in "Mäßig schnell, etwas gemächlich" ("Moderately fast, but somewhat leisurely") [T-7]. which is a scherzo. It has chirpy outer sections [00:00 & 02:21] based on a birdlike ditty (BD) [00:00], bookending a tuneful trio with a BD-reminiscent, jocund tune [01:25].
A sonata form "Lebhaft und feurig, doch nicht übereilt" ("Lively and fiery, but not too hurried") [T-8] brings this Symphony to a cheeky close. The exposition has two cognate ideas that are respectively twitchy (CT) [00:01] and sardonic (CS) [00:49]. They fuel a capricious, pause-riddled, imitatively spiced development [01:27] reminiscent of moments in Richard Strauss' (1864-1949) Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche (Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks; 1894-5).
Then CT suddenly resurfaces [02:59], sparking a compressed, key-itinerant recap. This has an ostentatious, anticipatory, cadenza-like pause [03:41], which is followed by a series of CT-CS-fired antics that end the Symphony in rollicking fashion.
The year 1944 found the composer in war-torn Hamburg, which seems in keeping with his choice of Goethe's (1749-1832) tragic play Faust (1772-1829) as the subject matter for a new work. This was to be a three-movement orchestral suite titled Szenen zu Goethes Faust (Scenes from Goethe's Faust); however, he only lived long enough to complete the middle "Gartenszene" ("Garden Scene") [T-9].
At a little over five minutes, and with no underlying story, it begins with a delightful, tender tune (DT) [00:01]. This is followed by four sibling themes that are portentous [00:50], flirtatious [01:52], anxious [02:56] and rhapsodic [03:28]. Then a troubled fifth [03:46] leads to nostalgic memories of DT [04:52], which conclude the piece and this CD contentendly.
German conductor Thomas Dorsch began championing Woyrsch's works seven years ago (see 27 August 2012 and 30 April 2015), and this time around, he leads the North German Radio (NDR) Philharmonic Hannover (also spelled Hanover). Once again, Maestro Dorsch delivers superb, sensitive accounts of some little-known music that in less caring hands might well come off as ordinary fare.
A coproduction of CPO and North German Radio (NDR), the recordings were made over four days back in 2015 at NDR's Large Broadcasting Hall (Großer Sendesaal) located in Hannover (Hanover), some 80 miles south of Hamburg. They project an acceptably wide soundstage in warm, reverberant surroundings, and will particularly appeal to those liking "wetter" sonics.
Scored for conventionally sized orchestras, the instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasantly bright highs, a well-focused midrange and clean bass. This disc is a must for romantic symphony buffs, and will meet with the approval of any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190426)
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