CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
30 JUNE 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.
Since the first of the year there have been an increased number of noteworthy discs with unusual repertoire. In order to cover more of these in the time available for each newsletter there's a little less detail than usual.
Alwyn, W.: Stg Qt 3, Three Winter Poems; Carwithen; Stg Qts 1 & 2; Tippett Qt [SOMM]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
More English music for string quartet is served up on this outstanding SOMM release. The four selections here include two by William Alwyn (1905-1985), who's been a CLOFO regular (see 30 April 2017), as well as a couple from his former student and later wife, Doreen Carwithen (1922-2003; see 27 July 2011). These are the only recordings of the latter currently available on disc.
Our program begins with William's Three Winter Poems (1948). Despite the programmatic name and movement subtitles, no underlying story is provided. However, the music might well describe one of Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder's (aka Brueghel, c. 1525-1569) wintry, village pictures (see here). In that regard, considering the composer had previously written some 100 film scores, this piece seems a logical extension of them.
The initial "Winter landscape -- Andante (Slow)" [T-1] features a chilling idea that conjures images of what could be a painting by that name. Then there's an "Elegy -- Frozen Waters -- Adagio e piangevole (Slow and plaintively)" [T-2], which is a static, wistful piece, where it's easy to imagine nearby ice-covered lakes. And bringing things to an atmospheric close, we get "Serenade -- Snow Shower -- Allegretto scherzando (Lively and playful)" [T-3] which comes off as billed.
The previous selection is bracketed timewise by the next two, which are Carwithen's only String Quartets of 1945 and 1950 respectively. The earlier is an amazingly accomplished, student work that's in three movements.
It opens "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-4] with a flighty, nervous theme (FN) that undergoes a development with twitchy key changes and shifting rhythms. This ebbs into a recap of the opening measures that turns lyrical and brings up a wild, FN-based coda, thereby ending the movement excitedly.
Next, a change of pace with a pining "Lento" ("Slow") [T-5]. It's a moving meditation based on a melancholy opening theme and has reminders of FN. The longest movement here, this waxes with some fugal moments along the way into a central climax. Then the music wanes and is followed by hushed, quivering passages, which bring things to a morose, ambivalent conclusion.
Gloom turns to gladness in the final movement [T-6] that's initially marked "Allegro" ("Fast") and starts with a frisky tune. This is bandied about, giving way to a complementary countersubject, after which there's a "Meno mosso" ("Less agitated"), amatory segment. Then fugato-introduced, "Tempo 1" ("Initial tempo") passages preface a manic return of the opening measures, and an adjoining, bubbly coda ends the work elatedly.
Doreen's Second Quartet (1950) is a horse of a different color! In only two movements, the first "Molto adagio" ("Very slowly") [T-7] is an overcast, ternary, A-B-A, utterance, where the "A"s are based on an anguished, pleading subject. They surround an agitated, anxiety-ridden "B" and close the movement in much the same way it began.
The final sonata-form one [T-8] begins "Allegro" ("Fast") with a flighty tune that's tweaked and followed by an "A"-reminiscent, "Meno mosso" ("Less agitated") idea. The latter engenders meditative passages that bridge into a lengthy "Tempo 1" ("Initial tempo") development and recap of the foregoing thematic material. Then a melancholy coda closes the work despairingly with two, grating, forceful chords.
Alwyn's Third String Quartet of 1984 fills out the CD, and joins a couple of other versions still extant on silver disc, which testifies to its popularity. This would be his final opus, and like his wife's later venture in the genre (see above), it has only two movements.
The initial one opens "Allegro molto" ("Very fast") [T-9] with some cursory, caustic, commanding chords and a nervous, harried theme (NH) succeeded by a tuneful countersubject (TC). These are explored, giving way to an "Allegro scherzando con bravura" ("Lively and playful with panache") development and "Tempo 1" ("Initial tempo") recap with a "Meno mosso" ("Less agitated") reminder of TC. Subsequently, a hushed allusion to NH ends the movement perfunctorily.
And then there's a final, keening, A-B-A one [T-10], where "Adagio" ("Slow"), sighing "A"s are wrapped around an "Allegro" ("Fast"), waltzlike "B". It brings this last work of his to a moving conclusion, and as the album notes point out, seems a fitting swansong to Alwyn's composing career.
As on SOMM's previous release in this series (see 30 April 2017), the Tippett Quartet (TQ), named after William's colleague Sir Michael Tippett (1905-1998), deliver technically accomplished, superb accounts of more long-forgotten works, which are welcome additions to the body of twentieth century chamber music.
Made just over a year ago at St. Nicholas Parish Church in Thames Ditton some 15 miles southwest of London, the recordings project a generously wide sonic image in warm spacious surroundings, for which the music is all the richer! The instruments are centered from left to right in order of increasing size, and well captured as well as balanced against one another, thereby yielding a lovely string tone.
The overall sound is characterized by radiant highs, a pleasing midrange and clean bass with no boomy, lower cello notes. All in all, this disc is another must for late romantic chamber music fans, and will meet with the approval of any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190630)
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Cowen: Sym 5; Sherwood, P.: Conc for Vn, Vc & Orch; Marshall-Luck/Spooner/Andrews/BBCCon O [EM]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
EM Records continues their exemplary investigation of British, romantic orchestral rarities (see 23 January 2015) with the two world premiere recordings, filling out this new release. Here they give us works by composers who weren’t born in England, but moved there, and had strong German connections,
Sir Frederic Hymen Cowen (1852-1935, see 26 October 2011) produced a significant oeuvre across all genres that would include six symphonies. His Third subtitled "Scandinavian" (1880) would make him one of the most often played English composers in the 1880-90s, along with the likes of Parry (1848-1918; see 31 January 2019), Stanford (1852-1924; see 31 December 2018) and Elgar (1857-1934; see 31 May 2010).
However, in the early 1900s, when the classical music world become preoccupied with the avant-garde, which included the dodecaphonism propounded by the Second Viennese School's composers and resultant, atonal serialism, Cowen fell from favor. Now, this ground-breaking release of his magnificent Fifth Symphony of 1886-7 cries out for a reappraisal of his music.
In four movements, the opening one is in sonata form [T-4] and begins with a "Molto sostenuto e maestoso" ("Very sustained and majestic") introduction [00:01], having suggestions of the two main ideas that will appear in the opening statement (OS). Then the music turns "Allegro poco tranquillo" ("Fast, but tranquil") [03:41] with a yearning thought (OY), which marks the start of OS.
After that, we get a related, heroic second one (OH) [06:19], and both undergo a consummate development [06:59], followed by the reappearance of OY [10:47]. This initiates the recapitulation, which has a spirited, OH flashback [12:32] that calls up an OY-OH based coda [13:44]. The latter has a final reminder [beginning at 14:07] of the movement's opening measures, thereby ending it full circle.
The next "Allegretto, quasi allegro" ("Moderately fast, and somewhat joyful") [T-5] is a delightful scherzo-like offering. It has alternating, respectively fey and songlike segments, where the former bring this music to a gossamer close.
It couldn't be more different from the succeeding "Adagio molto sostenuto" ("Slow and very sustained") [T-6], which starts with an OY-OH-reminiscent, wistful thematic nexus (OW) [00:01]. OW then undergoes several developmental treatments of varying temperament. These range from anxious [01:53] to ominous [03:02], grief-stricken [04:04], songful [05:38], genial [07:34] and resigned [10:32], where the last ends the movement with a wee glimmer of hope.
A final "Allegro con fuoco, ma deciso" ("Fast with fire, but determined") [T-7] opens with three, attention-getting, forte chords [00:00] and an OH-related, martial theme (OM) [00:10]. OM makes a fugal bridge [00:51] into a forceful repeat of itself [01:16] and jolly version of OY (OJ) [01:34] that's explored [02:21].
Subsequently, an OM-initiated, contrapuntally-spiced development [03:08] is succeeded by an OM-introduced recap [05:42]. Here a triumphal OM alternates with remembrances of OJ [beginning at 06:23] and builds with brass support into a thrilling, OM-OY-based coda [08:23]. This has a final, big-tune reminder of OY [09:01] that ends the Symphony victoriously.
Then it's on to music by Sir Frederic's slightly younger colleague, Percy Sherwood (1866-1939, see 7 November 2012), who'd write a modest body of works mainly in the orchestral and chamber categories. Sherwood had strong German connections (see the informative album notes), and consequently his compositions fell out of favor in Britain with the advent of World War I (1914-18).
Be that as it may, he's represented here by his Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, which was written in 1907-8, during his highly successful academic career on the faculty of the Carl Maria von Weber College of Music (WCM) in Dresden, Germany. Incidentally, he'd previously studied there, and Felix Draeseke (1835-1913; see 30 April 2017) was one of his instructors.
The work bears similarities to Brahms' Double Concerto (Op. 102, 1887), which premiered when Percy was a student at WCM. More specifically, both works have the same scoring and are in three, alternately fast and slow movements. On the other hand, Sherwood's is permeated with a late romantic chromaticism, and the two soloists work together, instead of carrying on a dialogue as they do in the Brahms.
It opens with a sonata-form-like "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-1] having an attractive angular theme (AA) that’s first played by the orchestra [00:01]. AA is then picked up by the soloists [00:52] and cause for a lovely opening serenade with virtuosic displays for both. Then they spin out a cavatina-like version of AA (AC) [02:41] that's explored by all [03:51] with bravura ornaments for the violin and cello.
This is followed by an AA-engendered, moody development [06:02] having virtuosic asides, after which a colorful recap with some fancy fiddling for the soloists commences with the return of AA in the tutti [08:46]. It builds via some comely, AC-related passages and more bravura moments into a rambunctious coda [12:18] that ends the movement flamboyantly.
A subsequent, ternary, A-B-A "Andante" ("Slow') [T-2] has yearning "A" sections fashioned from an AC-reminiscent, melancholy melody (AM) [00:01]. They surround a somewhat more hopeful "B" [02:12-05:03] based on an AM-derived, sanguine idea, and bring the movement full circle to a tranquil conclusion.
The “Finale” marked "Allegro molto vivace" ("Lively and very vivacious") [T-3] is another sonata form offering, and kicks off with the orchestra playing some carefree, rhythmic riffs [00:01]. These parent an infectious, playful ditty (IP) [00:12] that's enthusiastically picked up by the soloists [00:33] and followed with a coy countersubject (IC) for all [01:35]. There's a fickleness about both themes that lends itself to the succeeding, extended development [02:47].
Here there are frequent, showy displays for the violin and cello that culminate in a lengthy, killer cadenza, where the two engage in a virtuosic vis-à-vis [08:31]. This ends in the customary trill [11:19], which is all the more dramatic for some drumroll support, and unleashes an IP-IC-flavored recap coda that closes the Concerto joyously.
Made in conjunction with BBC Radio 3, this release has an all British cast with violinist Rupert Marshal-Luck, cellist Joseph Spooner and the BBC Concert Orchestra (BBCCO) under one of today's most promising conductors, John Andrews. The two soloists deliver technically imposing, yet sensitive performances of Sherwood’s rarely heard score, and then the BBCCO with Maestro Andrews still on the podium give a memorable account of Cowen's undeservedly neglected Symphony.
The recordings took place two years ago at the Colosseum located in Watford, England, some 20 miles north-northwest of London. They project a consistently narrow sonic image in a cavernous venue with the soloists centered just to the left (violin) and right (cello) of one another. Both are well captured and balanced against the orchestra.
Generally speaking, the instrumental timbre is characterized by effulgent highs, a pleasant midrange and lean, clean bass. Everything considered, what we have here are recordings that aren't "Audiophile", but do a serviceable job of introducing us to two, major orchestral discoveries. Critical listeners will find this CD presents a much better sonic image on headphones as opposed to speakers.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190629)
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Mayseder: Vol. 4 (Stg Qt 2, Stg Qnt 2); WienMays En [Gramola]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The fourth volume in Gramola's invaluable, ongoing series devoted to the music of Austrian violinist-composer Joseph Mayseder (1789-1863; see Gramola 99103, 99148 & 31 October 2018) serves up world premiere recordings of two more chamber works from this forgotten master’s considerable oeuvre. Those partial to Beethoven (1770-1827) and Schubert (1797-1828) won't be disappointed!
Mayseder wrote eight String Quartets, and our concert begins with his Second (c. 1811), which is in the usual four movements and anticipates Schubert's (1811-26). The opening, sonata-form "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-1] is based on a couple of ideas that are respectively taut and gently swaying. This ends in the same spirit it began, and is succeeded by a gorgeous "Andante" ("Slow") [T-2], which is a rapturous exploration of a winsome, sinuous melody.
Then, lest things turn into a romantic wallow, the composer gives us a sprightly scherzo marked "Menuetto -- Allegretto" ("Minuet -- Lively") [T-3]. It has twitchy, dancelike outer sections wrapped around a graceful inner one and sets the stage for the curt, concluding, sonata-rondo "Allegro molto" ("Very fast") [T-4]. Here a couple of whimsical themes play developmental tag with each other, ending the work excitedly.
Jumping ahead some twenty years, we're next treated to the original version of Mayseder's Second String Quintet -- there are five numbered ones -- whose manuscript is dated 28 December 1830. Scored for two violins, a pair of violas and cello, it's in four movements with the initial one being a sonata-rondo "Allegro agitato" ("Fast and excited") [T-5]. Here a skipping ditty and subsequent, romantic, songlike melody undergo some fetching developmental treatments, the last of which brings the movement to a somber close.
But the mood brightens with a charming, lullaby "Adagio" ("Slow") [T-6] and perky "Scherzo -- Allegro" ("Scherzo -- Fast") [T-7]. The latter has outer sections that ride on an infectious, cantering tune. They bracket a folksy, dance episode and lay the groundwork for the "Finale -- Allegro vivace" ("Finale -- Lively and spirited") [T-8].
This has three opening thoughts that are sequentially flighty, dictatorial and berceuse-like, where the latter smacks of the previous "Adagio". Then they're repeated and conjure up a dramatic, contrapuntally spiced development. It gives way to animated recollections of them, and a coda that's an amalgam of all three ends the Quintet in spirited fashion.
Our artists here, who are from Australia (violist Tobias Lea), Austria (violinists Raimund Lissy, Harald Krumpöck & violist Robert Bauerstatter) and Hungary (cellist Peter Somodari), collectively refer to themselves as the Vienna-based, Wiener Mayseder Ensemble. They deliver magnificent performances of both works with violinists Lissy and Krumpöck trading first and second assignments in them.
These recordings were made in 2016 (Quintet) and 2018 (Quartet) at Tonstudio Wavegarden in Mitterretzbach, Austria, some sixty miles north of Vienna. They present a generous sonic image in warm, accommodating surroundings, where there's no feeling of that confinement frequently associated with studio venues.
The instruments are comfortably spaced from left to right in order of increasing size, and well balanced against one another. The string tone is good with pleasing highs, sumptuous mids and clean bass. Those looking for some off-the-beaten-path, chamber music should give this disc a spin. What's more, any audiophiles among them won't be disappointed.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190628)
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Nepomuceno: Sym in g, Série Brasileira, O Garatuja Prel; Mechetti/MinGer PO [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
The adventurous folks at Naxos launch their new "The Music of Brazil" series with this CD of some colorful orchestral works by Alberto Nepomuceno (1864-1920; see 19 December 2011). Born and raised in Fortaleza, some 400 miles north-northwest of Recife, Alberto began studying music with his violinist-organist father, who was chapel-master at the local cathedral.
Then 1872 found the family living in Recife. Alberto took piano as well as violin lessons there and by age 18 (1882), became director of a local club, where all of that city's important musical events took place.
Two years later (1884), he moved to Rio de Janeiro, and got to know one of Brazil's greatest sculptors, Rodolfo Bernardelli (1852-1931). Under his patronage, Nepomuceno would spend the next seven years (1888-1895) studying music in Rome, Berlin, Vienna and Paris. Incidentally, in 1893 he met and established a close association with Edvard Grieg (1843-1907; see 12 July 2013), whose Norwegian, folk-based works inspired him to write nationalistic music that drew heavily on indigenous Brazilian material.
After his academic pursuits abroad, Alberto returned to Rio, where he lived out his life teaching, conducting and composing. In the process, he premiered many European works and championed the music of a young, up-and-coming composer by the name of Villa-Lobos (1887-1959; see 30 September 2017).
The selections here begin with the Prelude to Nepomuceno's opera O Garatuja (1904) [T-1], which along with a first act (currently unavailable on disc) was all he ever finished of this lyric comedy. It’s a nationalistic creation that has a Portuguese libretto by the composer based on Brazilian writer José de Alencar's (1829-1877) eponymous narrative (pub. 1873), As for the music, it incorporates Brazilian 17th century songs as well as syncopated dance rhythms such as the maxixe (see example) and lundu (see example).
This brilliantly scored piece opens with three delightful, folkish ditties that take the form of a catchy maxixe-sounding dance, lovely song-like tune and spirited march number. All of the preceding are explored and return in colorful, imitation-laced passages having hints of what sound like twittering birds. Then a rousing martial episode ends the Prelude in great triumph.
During his time in Berlin, Alberto studied with Austrian-born composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900; see 31 August 2016) and wrote the next selection titled Série Brasileira (Brazilian Suite or Brazilian Set, 1891), this being the only recording of the complete work currently available on disc.
In four movements, the first one called "Alvorada na serra" ("Dawn at the Mountains") [T-2] is a fantasy with innocent associations. Moreover, it begins with the melody for the Brazilian children's song "Sapo jururu" ("Sad toad"), where "Sapo" refers to a "Sapo-cururu", which is one of the country's largest amphibians. The tune, which we'll call "SJ", undergoes several treatments, ranging from pastoral to romantically commanding and reverent. Then SJ returns to end the movement as it began.
Next an "Intermédio" ("Intermezzo") [T-3] that's an orchestral version of the "Allegretto" ("Lively") from the composer's Brasiliero String Quartet (No. 3, 1890; currently unavailable on disc). It's an animated, balletic diversion based on an SJ-reminiscent idea spiced with maxixe (see above) rhythms.
And after all that prancing about, we get "Seste na rede" ("Napping in a Hammock") [T-4], which is a soporific, appropriately swaying piece, having modal melodies. These are reputedly derived from folk songs found in northeast Brazil, which was where the composer grew up. In any case, at one point there are buzzing passages that suggest a pesky mosquito.
Then the work terminates with a vivacious "Batuque" ("Samba") [T-5]. This is based on a dance brought to Brazil by African slaves (see example) and originally appeared as a piano piece called Danças dos Negros (1888; currently unavailable on disc). The brilliantly scored version of it here, which includes an exotic percussion instrument known as the reco-reco, brings the work to a thrilling conclusion.
Filling out this release we get the composer’s only Symphony. Written in 1893, during his years in Berlin, it’s one the first by a Brazilian composer. A magnificently constructed work, this is the only recording currently available on disc.
In four movements, there are overtones of Brahms’ (1833-1897) Symphonies (1855-1885), and the initial "Allegro con enthusiasmo" ("Lively with enthusiasm") [T-6] is a concise, letter-perfect, sonata-form offering of romantic proportions. The opening statement has respectively anxious and confident themes that undergo a dramatic development. Then a methodical recapitulation conjures up a cocky coda that ends the movement triumphantly.
The "Andante quasi adagio" ("Flowing somewhat slowly") [T-7] is a moving contemplation of some winsome thoughts and followed by a "Scherzo" [T-8]. This has fidgety outer sections, where young Alberto may have had the second movement of Beethoven's Choral Symphony (No. 9, 1822-24) in the back of his mind. Be that as it may, they surround a thematically related, lyrical "Intermezzo" and bring the movement full circle.
A closing "Con fuoco" ("With fire") [T-9] is a sonata-rondo with two catchy ideas that are sequentially heroic (CH) and flighty. These are juggled about and a CH-based fugato leads to an exciting recap with a valiant coda, which ends the Symphony victoriously.
All three works receive commanding performances from the Minas Gerais Philharmonic Orchestra (MGPO) under its Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, Brazilian-born Fabio Mechetti. The MGPO musicians make a strong case for their fellow countryman's music, and hopefully, Naxos will give us more of it on upcoming discs in this series.
The recordings were done a little over a year ago at the Sala Minais Gerais located in Belo Horizonte, some 200 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. They present a generously sized, comfortably recessed soundstage in a reverberant, enriching venue.
The overall instrumental timbre is characterized by pleasant highs, a lush midrange and rock-bottom, clean bass with pants-flapping whacks on the bass-drum. Everything considered, this release earns an "Audiophile" rating, and will particularly appeal to those liking wetter sonics.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190627)
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Popper: Vc Concs 1-3 (w orch), Vc Conc 4 (w pno instead of orch); Rummel/Evans/CzPard ChPO/Kato [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Czech-born David Popper (1843-1913) was one of the greatest cellists to emerge during the romantic period and a composer of considerable merit. As a youngster he studied cello at the Prague Conservatory (PC) and went on to play regularly with ensembles in Löwenberg, Germany (1863-67), some forty miles north of Berlin, as well as Vienna (1868-72).
From 1873 through 1896 Popper toured extensively throughout Europe, and finally settled in Budapest, where he taught at what's now known as the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Then in 1913 he journeyed 16 miles south of Vienna to Baden bei Wien, presumably for the "curative powers" of the local warm springs. Unfortunately, it would seem whatever illness David might have had prevailed, and he died there.
Popper would leave a substantial body of works, featuring the cello. These include four concertos, all of which are on this enjoyable, recent Naxos release. The First (pub. 1871) is dedicated to his teacher at the PC, Julius Goltermann (1825-1876), and in three movements, the initial one being marked "Frisch und feurig" ("Brisk and fiery") [T-1].
It opens with a swelling tutti flourish and an agitated riff for the soloist, who launches into a couple of romantically tuneful ideas. They're cause for rhapsodic passages with virtuosic ornamentation and give way to a hopping tune.
This triggers a whimsical segment, which bridges into a middle "Andante maestoso" ("Slow and majestic") [T-2] that starts with a comely, amorous theme for the cello. It's reminiscent of the Concerto's opening thoughts, and fuels a lovely aria with attractive figurations, which brings the movement to a tranquil, nostalgic ending.
An orchestral outburst triggers the final one [T-3]. Initially marked "Lebhaft, quasi recitative" ("Lively, and like a recitative"), it starts as billed, but soon becomes a twitchy "Tempo di Polacca", ("Polonaise"), where soloist and tutti cavort about, bringing the work to a jolly conclusion.
The Second Concerto appeared almost ten years later (pub. 1880) and is another three-movement work. It's opening, sonata-form-like "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-4] begins with a brief, hesitant orchestral preface and winsome, yearning melody (WY) for the strings. The latter is picked up by cello, and gives way via some virtuosic flourishes to an ursine, lumbering number.
Both ideas are developmentally jostled about with bravura excursions for the soloist, and a smiling variant of WY is heard. Then the pace quickens in showy cello passages and slows with the return of the opening thoughts embellished by the soloist. These escalate into a frenetic coda that ends the movement excitedly.
Next, a dulcet "Andante" ("Slow") [T-5] serenade, featuring a captivating, amorous theme derived from WY. Then there's a jolly rondo marked "Allegro molto moderato" ("Fast, but very moderate") [T-6] with a couple of pert, fetching tunes related to earlier ones. This brings the Concerto to a flighty, exuberant conclusion.
The following year saw a Third Concerto (pub. 1891), which is in a single, compact, "Allegro vivace" ("Lively and spirited") [T-7] movement that lasts about as long as those opening this work's two predecessors. Stylistically speaking, it's a charming fantasy based on an appealing, song-like idea having a couple of related countersubjects, and somewhat anticipates Dvorák's (1841-1904) Rondo for Cello and Orchestra (1893).
Almost another ten years would pass before the appearance of Popper's Fourth Concerto, which would be his final effort in the genre (pub. 1900). Like the first three this was offered in versions with a piano as well as orchestral accompaniment, and for some unexplained reason, what we have here is the former -- but better this than nothing!
Dedicated to the composer's distinguished colleague, Italian cellist-composer Carlo Alfredo Piatti (1822-1901), it's in four contiguous movements. The first "Allegro moderato" ("Moderately fast") [T-8] begins with the piano playing a skittish tune soon picked up by the cello, which follows it with a related, singing one. The two ideas undergo a chromatic exploration spiced with decorous, bravura passages for the soloist, and the piano makes a dramatic entrance with a big-tune version of the opening idea.
Then after a brief caesura, both instruments intone a lachrymose "Lento assai" ("Very slowly") [T-9] that bridges leisurely into a tiny "Scherzo" indicated as "Allegro ma non troppo" ("Lively, but not too fast") [T-10]. It has bouncy outer passages, which are wrapped around a related, questioning episode and call up a similarly marked, concluding, sonata-form movement [T-11].
This begins with a lively variation of the Concerto's opening theme that's worked into a couple of related countersubjects. Subsequently, the foregoing thematic material undergoes a moving development with virtuosic cello ornaments. It's succeeded by a stimulating recapitulation and coda that end the work and this CD succinctly.
Austrian cellist Marvin Rummel is the soloist for all four Concertos. He receives committed support from the Czech Pardubice Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra (CPCPO) under New Zealand-born conductor Tecwyn Evans in the first three. And then the CPCPO is replaced by Japanese pianist Mari Kato for the last. All of these musicians give outstanding accounts of this music, making a strong case for some rarely heard, undeservedly neglected works.
The recordings with the CPCPO date from late 2017 and were done in Pardubice, Czech Republic, some 60 miles east of Prague, and presumably at the Music House Concert Hall. They present a suitably sized sonic image in pleasantly reverberant surroundings with the soloist centered and well balanced against the tutti.
That said, the cello tone is natural with no overhang in lower registers. However, the tutti upper strings are somewhat glassy sounding, although the overall orchestral timbre is characterized by generally pleasant highs and a convincing midrange. As for the bass, with a small chamber orchestra like this, it doesn't plumb the depths, but what's here is very clean.
In regard to the Fourth Concerto, the recording took place in early 2018 at Schloss Weinberg (Weinberg Castle), Kefermarkt, Austria, about 90 miles west of Vienna, and probably in that establishment's well-appointed Large Seminar Room. With a work scored only for two instruments, the sonic image is accordingly smaller, but in equally congenial surroundings. Both musicians are placed center stage and well balanced against one another with Herr Rummel just left of Misu Kato.
Their instruments are well captured, and again the cello tone is natural with no low hangover. As for the piano sound, it's very convincing with just the right amount of percussive bite and no sign of any digital nasties.
Taking all of this into account, the CD doesn't quite earn an "Audiophile" stripe. However, with music this appealing, it easily gets a "Recommended" one, and "pointy-eared" listeners will most likely soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190626)
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Reznicek, E.: Karneval-Ste im alten Stil, Traumspiel-Ste, Sym Ste No. 1; Solyom/StaWeimar SO [CPO]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
By way of CPO, here are more orchestral goodies from Austrian composer Emil Nikolaus von Reznicek (1860-1945). He's probably best remembered by older readers for that tune from the overture to his comic opera Donna Diana (1893-4, rev. 1908 & 1933), which began each episode of the American TV series, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (1955-58).
This time around we get three symphonic suites, dating from between 1882 and 1935, these being the only recordings currently available on disc. Incidentally, the album notes include extensive information about what’s here, and consequently, we'll limit ourselves to some basic comments about it. That said, stylistically speaking, Reznicek's works falls into three different periods, and those on this release are good examples of each.
The program begins with one from his last, namely the Karneval-Suite im alten Stil (Carnival Suite in Olden Style). It started life as a symphonic intermezzo that appears in the middle of Emil's one-act opera Goldoliere des Dogen (The Doge's Gondolo, 1931), where it accompanies a carnival procession, passing by on a nearby canal. Then in 1935, the composer introduced it with great success as the stand-alone piece presented here.
A stylistically eclectic creation along the lines of Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances (1917-31), it takes the form of a 20th century, retrofitted, seven-part Baroque dance suite. Despite its title, the opening "Feierlicher Marsch" ("Solemn March") [T-1] seem quite joyful, while the subsequent "Introduktion" ("Introduction") [T-2] gets off to a regal start and comes to an infectious, skittering conclusion.
Next, there's a polite, graceful "Gigue" [T-3], followed by a Venetian folk dance known as the "Furlana" [T-4], and then a spirited "Passepied" [T-5]. After that, Reznicek serves up an "Arie" ("Aria") [T-6], which has casual, comely cavatina-like outer sections wrapped around a catchy, agitated one. Then topping things off, he gives us a "Tempo di marcia" ("In march tempo") [T-7] that's a return to the Suite's first part spiced with sprinklings of the third. This closes the work in the same spirit it began.
Moving back to Reznicek's middle period, we get his Traumspiel-Suite (Dream-Game or Dream-Play). This is a 1921 distillation of the incidental music he wrote in 1914 for Swedish writer August Strindberg's (1849-1912) eponymous play of 1901. It has six descriptively titled numbers, whose relationship to the stage work can be found in the album notes.
The initial "Heiterbucht und Schmachsund" ("Cheerful Cove and Disgraceful Straits") [T-8] is a scherzo with alternating jovial and gently undulating sections. Then there's "Herbst und Frühling" ("Autumn and Spring") [T-9], which is in ternary, A-B-A form. It has melancholy "A"s on either side of a harp-glissando-introduced, cheerfully vernal "B" with sounds of a nearby cuckoo.
Subsequently, "In der Fingalshöhle" ("In Fingal's Cave") [T-10] visits a natural wonder on an island in the Hebrides archipelago off Scotland's west coast. And by way of reminder, Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) had already brought this to the attention of the classical music world back in the early 1830s. Moreover, after seeing it in 1829, he was inspired to write his Hebrides Concert Overture (1830, rev.1832), which was published in 1834 with the name Fingal's Cave.
Reznicek's take on this is quite different from Mendelssohn's and only about a third as long. Where there's an air of heroic excitement about Felix's piece, Emil's is ominous. It has a subdued opening that intensifies with mysterious, descending harp glissandi and then fades, ending things much like they began.
The next "Wind und Weller-Walzer" ("Wind and Wave-Waltzes") [T-11] shows what a master tunesmith the composer was. Here light breezy passages adjoin delicate, undular ones and alternate with a lovely melodic thought. It prepares the way for the two closing numbers, which are related to characters in the play.
"Der Advocat" ("The Advocate") [T-12] seemingly limns someone who's outwardly gruff, but inwardly understanding, and transitions directly into "Der Tochter Abscheid" ("The Daughter's Departure") [T-13]. This closes the work with heavenly connotations somewhat like the ending of that timeless tone poem, Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration, 1888-9), by the composer's colleague Richard Strauss (1864-1949).
Reznicek’s first stylistic period is well represented by the concluding selection, which dates from his student days at what’s now known as the University of Music and Theatre Leipzig. It’s the Symphonische Suite Nr. 1 (Symphonic Suite No. 1, 1882) that was his thesis for the degree in composition he got from that highly esteemed institution. And by the way, his instructors included a couple of important German composers, namely Carl Reinecke (1824-1910) and Salomon Jadassohn (1831-1902; see 21 December 2012).
As the album notes point out, the work is amazingly accomplished for a twenty-two-year-old and could be regarded as his first symphony, which is apparently what he wrote on the manuscript, but would later change. Be that as it may, the CD's annotator ranks this with Alexander Glazunov's (1865-1936; see 12 April 2012) initial effort in the genre (1881-2), which is saying a great deal! We might also add there's a sense of drama about this colorfully scored music that arguably implies an underlying program. However, the composer never seems to have revealed what it might have been.
In three movements, the opening one titled "Overture" [T-14] starts with a "Sehr gehalten" ("Very laid-back") motif (VL) followed by a "Sehr rasch mit Feuer" ("Very quick with fire") one (VQ), which gives way to a wistful, lilting theme. All this smacks of music by a composer whom Emil greatly admired and would soon frequently conduct, namely Richard Wagner (1813-1883). More specifically, some of the orchestral passages associated with Siegfried in the final, Götterdammerüng (Twilight of the Gods, 1871-74) chapter of Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring Cycle, 1854-74) come to mind.
The foregoing ideas are subsequently explored in a dramatic, tone-poem-like development. Then in sonata-form fashion, there's a heroic recap and rousing coda that ends the movement definitively with victorious feelings.
Next, Reznicek gives us an "Adagio" [T-15] that opens with a searching subject, which undergoes four treatments of differing temperament. These range from exultant to valiant, contemplative and triumphant, where the last concludes with a peaceful, confident afterthought.
Then the music shifts into high gear with the "Scherzo finale" [T-16]. Here a VL-VQ-like, eccentrically skittish idea (VS) triggers an antsy episode, succeeded by a related, melodious thought (VM). These become the subjects of an increasingly agitated exploration that wanes into a bizarre, contrapuntally spiced waltz sequence based on them. This transitions into the tranquil return of VM, which engenders dynamic recollections of VS. They power an explosive coda, which ends the Suite and this CD exuberantly.
Germany's oldest orchestra, the Staatskapelle Weimar (SW), based some 150 miles south-southwest of Berlin, serves up these Reznicek treats with great relish, under Swedish conductor Stefan Solyom. The recordings were made back in 2012, when Maestro Solyom was the SW's General Music Director and Principal Conductor, and make a strong case for all three Suites.
A coproduction of CPO and Deutschlandradio Kultur, they took place in the Weimarhalle (Weimar Hall) and project a wide, marginally withdrawn sonic image in a lush acoustic. The orchestral timbre is characterized by affably bright highs and an articulate midrange. As for the bass, with the conservatively sized forces called for in each of these Suites, it doesn't plumb the depths, but what's here is very clean. Consequently, this release gets an "Audiophile" rating with the proviso that those liking a dry sound may find it a little wet for their tastes.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190625)
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Seitz, F.: Student Concs for Vn & Pno V2 (Nos 6-10 & Op. 25, 1902-1922); Chung/Lee [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Seitz, F.: Student Concs for Vn & Pno V1 (Nos 1-5, 1891-1900); Chung/Lee [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
German violinist-composer-conductor and pedagogue Friedrich Seitz (1848-1918) was born in what's now Günthersleben-Wechmar, around sixty miles west-southwest of his fellow countryman Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) old stomping ground, Leipzig. Friedrich’s initial schooling was in his hometown and then he served as a volunteer with the German Army during the Austro-Prussian War (1866).
After his military stint, he settled in Sondershausen, some 50 miles west of Leipzig, where he took violin lessons and became a member of the court orchestra, whose conductor was none other than Bax Bruch (1838-1920). Subsequently, Seitz had a highly successful career as concertmaster of orchestras in Magdeburg (1878) and Bayreuth (1888). Between those postings, he also served as conductor for one in Dessau (1884).
A renowned soloist, he pursued concert tours that took him to other locations in Germany and the Netherlands, as well as London. However, the year 1908 saw him develop nerve-related problems that put a stop to his concertizing. Consequently, he retired to Sondershausen, where he spent the rest of his life composing and giving violin lessons.
In that regard, Seitz penned a modest number of works, mostly in the chamber category, and is best remembered for his Schüler-Konzerte (Student Concertos). Primarily written as introductory exercises for young, aspiring violinists to improve their technique, these inventive, tuneful creations also have great, listener appeal.
Recordings of the first five surfaced a couple of years ago on the Naxos disc pictured above and to the right (DR), which somehow slipped under the CLOFO radar. However, with the recent release of another six on the album to the left (DL), it now seems a good time to tell you about both CDs.
There's confusion regarding how many such concertos Seitz wrote, as well as their actual dates of composition. However, eleven with piano accompaniment have come down to us, and ten are numbered in accordance with their publication dates. Incidentally, we'll only cover their high points, as the album notes discuss them in considerable detail.
The initial five are all in three movements with minimal breaks, and date from the last ten years of the 19th century. The First Concerto's (pub. 1891) opening one [DR, T-1] has a couple of catchy tunes that bring Mendelsohn to mind, and it runs right into a rhapsodic second [DR, T-2]. Then a flighty, virtuosic third [DR, T-3] hints at previous ideas and closes the work with a spirited, Tzigane cadence.
The year 1893 saw the publication of numbers Two and Three, which are along the same lines and have more delightful themes in each of their spirited, first movements [DR, T-4 & T-7]. These again adjoin moving, slow ones [DR, T-5 & 8] that are followed by antsy, scherzoesque finales [DR, T-6 & 9].
Moving right along, we get Four (pub. 1893) and Five (pub. 1900). Their initial "Allegros" [DR, T-10 & T-13] each feature respectively assertive and lovely, lullaby melodies. Then both movements transition into cantabile-like ones [DR, T-11 & T-14], after which the Concertos end with whimsical "Allegrettos" [DR, T-12 & 15]. Commentary regarding the performances and recorded sound of all the foregoing can be found below.
Turning to the companion disc pictured to the left (DL), we get the remaining six. These appeared in the early years of the 20th century and include the black sheep of the family that's an unnumbered, two-movement work in A minor. This apparently also existed in versions with a chamber as well as full orchestra accompaniment, but those are now presumably lost. Incidentally, at one point it was designated as No. 7. However, a publication date of 1902 implies this came between Five (pub. 1900) and Six (pub. 1907), so we'll refer to it as No. 5½.
The opening movement [DL, T-17] contrasts an initial proud idea, having bravura excursions, with a related hymnlike tune. Then the closing "Maestoso" [DL, T-18] is a majestic violin recitative, which recalls previous thoughts, thereby bringing No. 5½ full circle.
Six and Seven (pub. 1907) have three movements each and are quite similar right from the start. Their opening ones [DL, T-1 & T-4] begin with declaratory themes succeeded by animated numbers. These give way to charming, aria-like "Andantes" [DL, T-2 & T-5], followed by arresting "Allegro" finales [DL, T-3 & T-6], each of which have respectively sprightly and contemplative ideas that are juggled about.
Then jumping ahead a few years, we get Eight (pub. 1910) and Nine (pub. 1916). These are again three-movement works, their first ones [DL, T-7 & T-10] having somewhat melancholy thoughts juxtaposed with more cheerful melodies. They’re followed by slow, somber, middle offerings [DL, T-8 & T-11], after which both Concertos come to ebullient "Allegro" conclusions [DL, T-9 & T-12], featuring several captivating themes.
The Tenth, which was the composer's last effort in the genre, is somewhat of another black sheep! It was published four years after his death (1922), and is in four movements that are to be played contiguously; however, they're conveniently banded here for easy access.
The initial one [DL, T-13] is an exquisite "Allegro" utterance, where respectively songlike and flighty themes cavort about, morphing into a sorrowful melody. The latter engenders a winsome "Adagio" ("Slow") movement [DL, T-14] that's followed by an anticipatory pause and an aloof, dramatic "Lento energico” ("Slow, but energetic") one [DL, T-15], which soon transitions into a fetching fourth "Allegro" [DL, T-16]. The latter has skittering outer sections that surround a beguiling, halcyon episode and close the Concerto with a Tzigane touch like that at the end of No. 1 (see DR above).
Two of today's most promising, young artists, namely, award-winning, Korean violinist Hyejin Chung and Hong Kong pianist Warren Lee deliver superb renditions of all eleven works. Both artists possess awesome technical abilities! Consequently, they deftly sail through these virtuosically demanding Concertos, thereby bringing out that inherent tunefulness, which makes them so appealing.
The recordings on both CDs were made by the same production staff in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's Concert Hall. They present appropriately sized sonic images, where the instruments are centered with the violin slightly left of the piano. Both are well captured yielding a lovely string tone, and well-rounded keyboard notes with just the right amount of percussive bite.
Although the venue was the same for both discs, DR (2017) finds the performers in a warm, enriching venue; however, DL (2018), which is cut at a higher level, has them somewhat further away and seemingly in a more reverberant setting. What's more, there are underlying low disturbances that may be HVAC-related.
Taking all this into account, DR definitely earns an "Audiophile" rating, but not DL. Be that as it may, all romantic chamber music buffs will want both CDs as these engaging works will soon make you forget any sonic faults.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190624, Y190623)
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