CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
31 AUGUST 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.
Kuhlau: Pno Qt 3; Malling: Pno Qt; Copenhagen Pno Qt [Dacapo (Hybrid)]
AUDIOPHILE (1 SACD)
Dacapo serves up some tasty Danish pastries here, featuring the Copenhagen Piano Quartet (CPQ). They play a couple of romantic pieces written by two, former residents of that great city, this being the only currently available hybrid, CD(2)/SACD(2/5.0) version of either selection.
The first composer represented is Friedrich Kuhlau (1786-1832), who was born in Uelzen, Germany, 50 miles south-southwest of Hamburg. He had an unfortunate childhood accident at age seven, when he fell and lost his right eye. But neither this physical handicap nor the fact he came from a poor family deterred him from musical pursuits.
In that regard, as a teenager he'd become an accomplished pianist, and started composing. Then in 1806 at age 20 he pursued musical studies in Hamburg. However, with the Napoleonic Wars raging throughout Europe (1803-1815), by 1810 the young men of that city were being forcibly conscripted into the French army, and Friedrich fled to the safety of Copenhagen, Denmark.
During 1813, he was granted Danish citizenship and became a titled Royal Court Musician. Accordingly, he wrote official cantatas as well as operas and incidental music for plays staged at the Royal Danish Theatre in that city.
A prolific composer, he would leave more than 200 published works across most genres, to say nothing of many in manuscript form that were lost when his house burned down. Friedrich's music has Germanic roots, and in that regard, it's strongly influenced by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), whom he knew. But considering his adopted country and frequent references to Scandinavian folk material, he's arguably the foremost of Denmark's early, romantic composers.
Kuhlau's oeuvre includes many distinguished, chamber works, three being Piano Quartets, the Third of which (G minor, Op. 108; 1829) opens our program. The composer once called it "my best to date", and with good reason as it's a structural masterpiece that many will find surpasses Ludwig's only effort in the genre (Op. 16; 1796).
Commissioned by a wealthy Russian merchant as a present for his daughter, it's a large-scale, forty-minute, four-movement piece. The first "Allegro con molto fuoco" ("Fast with much fire") [T-1] at almost fifteen is in sonata form. It has an opening statement (OS) that begins with an arresting, headstrong tune (OH) [00:00], which bridges into a gorgeous, related romantic melody (OR) [01:34].
These two ideas are explored and OS is repeated [03:51], giving way to a consummate, captivating, fugato development [07:43]. Then OH initiates a recapitulative, reworking of OS [09:09] with virtuosic piano passages and memories of OR [11:26]. This invokes an OH-triggered coda [13:48] that concludes the movement definitively.
The next "Allegro assai" ("Very fast") [T-2] is scherzoesque with whimsical, contrapuntally spiced outer sections based on an OH-reminiscent, skittering ditty (HS) [00:00]. They're wrapped around a cheery, ländler-like trio [02:08-04:24], featuring a couple of HS-derived tunes, and bring the movement full circle, ending it with a forceful
Then there's a respite with an "Adagio" [T-3], which is a theme and variations, having a laid-back, OH-tinged, chorale-like main subject (HC) heard at the outset [00:00]. This is repeated in more tender fashion [00:38] and followed by four variants. These range from coquettish [01:56] to cantilena-like [03:59], complaisant [05:41] and playful [07:29], where the last has a nostalgic, closing reminder of HC [08:34].
And wrapping things up, there's an "Allegro poco agitato" ("Fast and somewhat excited") [T-4] sonata-rondo. Here we soon get an HS-like, antsy idea (HA) [00:05] that scurries about, and is followed by an OR-reminiscent, lilting thought (RL) [01:21]. Then HA returns [02:48], and what should pop up? None other than our old friend HC [03:52], followed by the reappearance of RL [04:50]. The latter is massaged and succeeded by a proud, HA-based coda [06:23] that ends this superb Piano Quartet jubilantly.
The disc is filled out with another written by an undeservedly forgotten, but truly homegrown Danish composer, namely Otto Valdemar Malling (1848-1915). He was born and spent his life in Copenhagen, where he studied under the great Niels Gade (1817-1890; see 31 March 2018), and became one of the city's most important musical figures. Otto supported himself by teaching, taking positions as organist at local churches, and engaging in various administrative activities.
He'd leave around 100 works, many of which are for organ. But there are also a substantial number in other genres. Moreover, during the 1860-70s he produced a significant amount of vocal music, and the 1880s saw him concentrate on writing orchestral pieces. Then in the early 1900s, Malling turned to smaller instrumental fare, and his 1903 Piano Quartet presented here, would be his last in the chamber medium.
Coming some seventy years after Kuhlau's masterpiece, it's also in four movements and a significant addition to late romantic, repertoire in this genre. Incidentally, Otto greatly admired the music of his French contemporaries, and there are moments that bring to mind Camille Saint-Saëns' (1835-1921) Piano Quartets (1853-75) and Concertos (1858-96).
The opening "Allegro - Presto - Largo" ("Fast - Very Fast - Slow") [T-5] is in sonata form, and begins with a binary theme (BT), sporting a sprightly first part (BS) [00:00], which is immediately repeated [00:13 & 00:21]. It has Scandinavian folk overtones, recalling Edvard Grieg's (1843-1907; see 12 July 2013) Norwegian Dances (1881-1902) as well as his Symphonic ones (1896-97). This isn't that surprising, when you consider Malling knew him as he'd spent a considerable amount of time in Copenhagen and also studied with Gade.
BS adjoins a complementary, lyrical part of Gallic persuasion [01:00], and then there's a related, hymnlike number (BH) [01:24]. The latter is explored, bridging into a BS-initiated, dramatic development [02:53], which transitions into commanding recollections of BT [04:54] and BH [05:57]. Then mysterious BH-tinged passages [beginning at 06:43] ebb and flow, calling up a BT-based coda. This starts frenetically [07:47], but ends the movement with a couple of dying whimpers [08:11 & 08:15].
Next there's an "Allegro - Trio" marked scherzo [T-6], whose outer sections [00:00 & 03:43] are based on a BS-reminiscent, prancing ditty (BP) rhythmically modelled after the Norwegian folk dance called a halling. They surround an endearing trio [01:56-03:42], featuring a BP-derived, amorous thought, and bring this movement full circle.
After that, Otto serves up a restful, nocturne-like one [T-7], which gets off to an "Andante" ("Slow") start with a BH-like, easy-going melody (BE) [00:00]. This is delicately contemplated, and succeeded by a "Poco più animato" ("A little more animated") version of BE (BA) [01:49]. Then BA undergoes a "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo"), dreamy treatment [02:32], followed by a "Poco più animato" ("A little more animated") forceful, rendition of BA [02:59], which wanes into a "Tempo I" ("Initial tempo") return of BE [04:00]. This recaptures the movement's opening mood, thereby ending it tranquilly.
The "Finale" [T-8] is a sonata-rondo with more of those "Griegious" touches. Marked "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast and with fire"), it has a swaggering preface [00:00], suggesting the BA-like, jaunty two-part, dance number (BJ) that's next [00:12]. BJ is then followed by a related, retiring afterthought (BR) [01:15], which is repeated [01:36], explored and followed by a short break.
Subsequently, BJ initiates a vivacious development [02:36] of all the foregoing that culminates in a brief pause and BJ-triggered recap [03:59]. Here there are nostalgic recollections of BR [05:01], and the music transition into a BJ-BR-derived coda [05:38] that brings this Quartet and wonderful release to an exciting conclusion.
These performances from the up-and-coming, award-winning CPQ are superb! Founded in 2010 by Polish cellist Adam Stadnicki (b. 1986), it also includes three highly talented, young ladies. They're Danish first-violinist Benedikte Damgaard (b. 1986) and pianist Neel Bramsnӕs Teilmann (b. 1984) along with Czech second-violinist Kristina Fialova (b. 1987). Each of them is a virtuoso in their own right, and together they deliver youthful, exquisitely detailed accounts of these Quartets. The CPQ makes a memorable listening experience out of music that in lesser hands could come off as ordinary fare.
Made in 2015 (Kuhlau) and 2016 (Malling) at the Royal Danish Academy of Music Concert Hall, the recordings sound consistent and project an appropriately sized sonic image in a splendid venue. The strings are arranged from left to right in order of increasing size with the piano centered just behind them, and all are well balanced against one another. While the string tone is lifelike except for some scrappy sounding highs on the CD track, the piano is beautifully captured in all three play modes.
Those with home theater systems will find the multichannel one adds a concert ambience, giving the listener a virtual, center orchestra seat a few rows back from the CPQ. We should also note there's a momentary, awkward edit, where the piano makes a sudden lurch to the right [T-8, 06:21]. But everything considered, this disc earns an "Audiophile" stripe.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190831)
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Mathieu, A.: Pno Qnt, Pno Trio, Vn Son, Occasional Pcs (5; vn & pno); Five Canadian Soloists [ATMA Cl]
AUDIOPHILE BEST FIND (1 CD)
Several outstanding releases featuring modern day Canadian composers have appeared in these pages over the past couple of years (see 31 March 2018), and here's another with some delightful chamber works by André Mathieu (1929-1968). He was born in Montreal, Quebec, and both parents taught music. Not only that, his father was a pianist-composer, and Mom played the cello.
An extremely precocious child, young André received his first music lessons from Dad. He began composing when he was only four and gave a recital of his own pieces at six (1935). What's more, the very next year Mathieu performed his recently completed Concertino No. 1 for Piano and Orchestra on the CBC. And not long thereafter, he was given a government grant that allowed him to study in Paris, where he'd spend the next couple of years.
Mathieu went back to Montreal in late 1939, ostensibly for the holidays. But the outbreak of World War II (1939-45) prevented his return to Europe, so he concertized in Canada and the US until the war's end. Then André once again took up residence in Paris for further academic training, but psychological as well as financial difficulties resulted in his going home at age eighteen (1947).
Over the next few years, he'd take up teaching and concentrate on composing. However, his mental state gradually deteriorated, and he eventually succumbed to alcoholism, which lead to his untimely death at the age thirty-nine.
Mathieu left a good number of works, mostly in the solo piano and chamber music genres, and a sampling of those in the latter category fill out this release. Some of them appeared on CDs many years ago coupled with "Warhorses" by other, well-known composers. Now, we get an album completely devoted to him, where four of the seven selections are the only currently available recordings on disc. These are accordingly marked "OCAR" after their titles.
The program begins with two short pieces for violin and piano, both dating from his last year in Paris (1946). The first Fantasie Brésilienne (Brazilian Fantasy; OCAR) [T-1] is a dancelike tidbit. Here a couple of catchy, Latin-American-flavored tunes are bandied about, and it may remind you of Milhaud's (1892-1974) Saudades do Brasil (Fond Remembrances of Brazil, 1920-21). Then the mood turns sensuous in Désir (Desire; OCAR) [T-2], which was never published. It has impressionistic, seductive outer passages wrapped around a brief, lascivious, "bump-and-grind" number [02:49-03:27].
André wrote some of his best music in the 1943-53 timeframe, and the Piano Quintet of 1953 is one of his finest works. In two movements, the first "Allegro" [T-3] begins with a compelling motif (CM) that undergoes eight diverse treatments.
The first five are sequentially lyrical, wistful, anxious, troubled and romantically sweeping in the manner of Rachmaninov's (1873-1943) piano concertos (1891-1941) (RS) [03:42]. After that, there's a flighty sixth succeeded by a mysteriously celestial penultimate one. This turns into an insistent eighth, which ends the movement nostalgically.
An "Allegro con fuoco" ("Fast with fire") [T-4] brings the work to a spirited conclusion, and opens with an extended, antsy motif. It goes through four developmental phases, the first being chromatically frenetic and having overtones of Ravel's (1875-1937) Piano Concertos (1929-31). Then there are a couple of rhapsodic ones with a repeat of RS [05:02], which is followed by an excited fourth that ends the Quintet in the same spirit it began.
Moving back some ten years, we get the Ballade-Fantaisie (1942; OCAR) for violin and piano [T-5]. A theme with variations, this opens with a romantic, relaxed main subject (MS), which is repeated, and followed by an excited variant (VE). The latter gives way to respectively yearning (VY) and capricious ones that are each played twice. Then after a short pause we get a retiring transformation and succeeding, lullaby-like treatment.
This is followed by the return of VE as well as VY, and subsequently, Mathieu dishes up a violin cadenza something like what you might hear the lead fiddler play at an Appalachian country hoedown. Then the piano jumps in, ending this piece with an impish "So there!" cadence.
The composer's three-movement, Sonata for Violin and Piano (1944) is next, and opens "Allegro presto" ("Extremely fast") [T-6] with a cheeky, curvaceous, Gallic-sounding ditty (CG). This undergoes a pensive development with twittering passages that bridge into a curt, CG-based coda. It recalls the opening measures and brings the movement to a pensive conclusion.
An interim "Largo" [T-7] has alternating "A" and "B" sections, which stylistically compete with one another. Moreover, the "A"s feature a comely, peripatetic tune with folksong overtones, while the "B"s are built on an impressionistic idea, having mystic moments like those in the music of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915). In the end, the "A"s win out, and the movement wanes peacefully away.
It's immediately succeeded by a tiny, final "Allegretto" ("Lively") [T-8] that gets off to a twitchy, ostinato, piano start, followed by a CG-reminiscent, Eastern-tinged tune for the violin. The latter is explored and CG resurfaces [01:54], ending the Sonata full circle.
Our concert continues with two more pieces for violin and piano written a year later (1945). The first titled Complainte (Lament; OCAR) is a duo reworking of the second movement from André's symphonic suite titled Scènes de ballet (1938-45). It's a chromatically adventurous ternary miniature with outer sections based on a comely, graceful melody, wrapped around a shimmering, Scriabinesque episode.
The other one is an unpublished selection that's a recent reconstruction by a couple of Canadian musicologists based on some manuscript fragments. Called Nocturne (OCAR) [T-10], it takes the form of an impressionistic, character piece haunted by the ghosts of Ravel and once again Scriabin.
This CD closes with Mathieu's Piano Trio of 1947, which is the most progressive work here and arguably his chamber masterpiece. In two movements the initial "Andante" ("Slow") [T-11] opens with a rapturous melody intoned by the cello (RM) [00:00], that's soon embraced by the piano and violin.
This is followed by a couple of related countersubjects, and the foregoing thematic material is explored. Then there's a harmonically inventive development, which waxes and wanes into a pensive episode that ends the movement with a feeling of somber detachment.
The closing "Andante, allegro con fuoco" ("Slow, fast with fire") [T-12] is a rondoesque set of inventive, RM-based, thoughts of different temperament. Here an initial, wistful rumination [00:00] is succeeded by ten more, the first five ranging from frantic to insistent, fragmented, searching and anxious.
Subsequently, there are questioning, contemplative, melancholy, amorous and keening ones. Then the work's opening is recapped as the cello plays RM [06:47]., which soon engenders an RM-derived, virtuosic coda that ends the Trio and this CD excitedly.
The all Canadian cast featured here includes pianist Jean-Philippe Sylvestre along with violinists Marc Djokic (Fantaisie..., Quintet, Ballade..., Trio), Andréa Tyniec (Désir, Quintet, Sonata, Complainte, Nocturne), violist Elvira Misbakhova (Quintet) and cellist Chloé Dominguez (Quintet, Trio). They deliver moving accounts of some captivating works by a child prodigy, who's been called "the Canadian Mozart".
The recordings were made in September of 2018 at Salle Raoul-Jobin in the Palais Montcalm (Montcalm Palace), Quebec, Canada. They present an appropriately sized sonic image in warm, slightly reverberant surroundings with the instruments well captured and balanced against one another. The piano is lifelike with just the right amount of percussive bite, while the strings are natural sounding except for an occasional steely spot. Everything considered, this disc will have great appeal for romantic chamber music lovers and should meet with the approval of any audiophiles among them.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190830)
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Molique, W.B.: Chbr Wks V1 (Pno Trios 1 & 2); Parnas Trio [MD&G]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
The kooky album notes for this new MD&G release tell us German violinist-conductor-composer Wilhelm Bernhard Molique's (1802-1869) biographer considered Bernhard's two Piano Trios as among the best of his oeuvre. Be that as it may, those who liked CPO's revelatory series devoted to his eight String Quartets (see 31 December 2016), won't be disappointed. Both are four-movements works, these being the only recordings of them currently available on disc.
In that regard, his fellow countryman, conductor-pianist-composer Hans von Bülow (1830-1894), apparently rated the First Piano Trio of 1846 more highly than Schubert's (1797-1828) previous creations in this genre (1812-27) and even those of Robert Schumann (1810-1856), which soon followed (1847-51).
The initial, sonata form "Allegro" ("Fast") [T-1] has an opening statement (OS), starting with delicate, repeated violin notes [00:00] and a lovely tuneful, first theme (OT) introduced by the cello [00:01]. The piano picks up on OT [00:15], and all three instruments examine it, after which the keyboard intones a related second, cavatina-like idea (OC) [01:31]. Subsequently, OC undergoes a brief, aria-like exploration, and OS reappears [03:21].
Then OT-engenders a consummate development [06:44] and initiates a recap [08:42]. The latter adjoins a coda-like epilogue [11:22] that becomes increasingly agitated, ending the movement with a glorious ff flourish [11:50].
The next is a "Scherzo" [T-2] that starts with a laidback cello riff (LC) [00:00] immediately followed by a couple of OT-reminiscent ideas, which are respectively fleeting [00:06] and proud [00:30]. These chase each other about, and everything is repeated [beginning at 04:05], somewhat anticipating Bruckner's (1824-1896) tendency to do this in his Symphonies (1863-96).
Then LC returns [08:08] and is abruptly interrupted by a forte chord for all [T-3, 00:00], which sets the "Adagio" in motion. Here the cello soon sings an OC-reminiscent, romantic melody (OR) [00:05], followed by the violin playing an OT-tinged, melancholy one (OM) [01:01]. However, OM is suddenly pierced with stabs of OF [01:18 & 01:32], but manages to bridge [beginning at 01:37] into a rhapsodic episode, recalling OR [02:17].
Here, despite more OF intrusions [03:27 & 03:40], OR perseveres [03:46] and powers a big tune climax [04:28]. Then this wanes, and who should return? Well, none other than that pesky OF [06:04]! It fuels a cheeky coda that ends the movement perfunctorily.
The concluding "Rondo" [T-4] starts with a jittery piano [00:00], which launches into an OT-tinted, antsy number (OA) [00:05 & 00:27]. This will recur throughout the movement, but for now, it's succeeded by a jaunty treatment [00:50] and subsequent, happy variant of itself (OH) [01:13].
Then the music transitions into restatements of OA [02:11, 02:56 & 03:14] that herald a commanding exploration [03:50] and the return of OH [04:27]. The latter calls up ever more exuberant versions of OA [04:48], which surround a final reminder of OH [05:50] and bring the work to an exultant conclusion.
Next up, the Second Piano Trio written almost a decade later (1855), during the composer's years in London (see 31 December 2016). More tuneful and immediately accessible than the First, this one shows the influence of his colleague and good friend Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847).
As before, the opening movement is in sonata form, but this time around it's marked "Allegro vivace" ("Lively and spirited') [T-5] and commences with the strings playing an undulating, winsome theme (UW) [00:00]. UW is picked up by the piano [00:39], explored, and followed by a delicate, coquettish idea (DC) [01:31] that's massaged with some UW-tinctured lotion.
Then there's a brief pause, after which the composer serves up a spirited development [03:27] and straightforward recapitulation [05:35]. Subsequently, the latter makes a UW-laced bridge [beginning at 08:29] into a virtuosic, UW-DC-based coda [09:26], which ends the movement jubilantly.
The album notes characterize the next "Andante con moto" ("Slow with movement") [T-6] as an intermezzo with an "intimacy" like one of Schubert's amaranthine melodies. They go on to mention the one for the fourth lieder in his Schwanengesang (Swan Song) collection (D 957) of 1828, which is titled "Ständchen" ("Serenade") and begins, "Leise flehen meine Lieder" ("Silently my songs beg").
Be that as it may, what we have here is a ternary creation that starts with an antsy pizzicato motif (AP) [00:00]. This is succeeded by a songlike, wistful theme for the piano (SW) [00:07], which is repeated on the cello [00:31] and violin [01:12] with surrounding wisps of AP. Then there's a comely, confident, keyboard countersubject (CC) [01:42].
Subsequently, the foregoing undergoes an SW-initiated, dramatic exploration [beginning at 02:03] with big-tune treatments of CC [02:22] and SW [03:16]. These invoke a reworking of the opening measures [beginning at 04:19] that brings the movement to a peaceful conclusion.
An innocent, playful tune (IP) is the basis for the outer sections of the "Scherzo" [T-7]. They surround a trio section [01:41-03:14], featuring an austere variant of IP, and conclude this delightful caper in the same spirit it started.
Next, a yawp from the piano [00:00] announces the final "Molto allegro e vivace" ("Very lively and vivacious") [T-8], which is a combination rondo and theme-with-variations. Moreover, it has an initial, songlike thematic nexus (SN) [00:06] that's the subject material for a series of clever treatments. These range from flighty [01:27] to grandiose [02:17], whimsical [03:16] and ominous [04:07]. Then an introspective one [06:28] builds to a magnificent climax, thereby ending the trio and this CD on a real high.
Based in Stuttgart, where Molique spent many years, the Trio Parnassus (TP) was established in 1983 and is no stranger to these pages (see 27 August 2012). This release finds them (violinist Julia Gaić, Cellist Michael Groß and pianist Johann Blanchard) in superb form as evidenced by their technically accomplished, invigorating renditions of these undeservedly neglected, Molique masterpieces. They show he was much more than one of Germany's most celebrated violinists! Hopefully, the TP will soon give us more outstanding works by forgotten composers.
Made last year at the Konzerthaus (Concert Hall) in Abtei Marienmünster (Marienmünster Abbey), Germany, the recordings present a somewhat narrow, withdrawn soundstage in reverberant surroundings. The stringed instruments are placed left to right in order of increasing size with the piano centered just behind them.
While the three are adequately balanced against one another, they'd have been more convincingly captured with some additional space between them, thereby giving the music more room to breathe. In that regard, this CD presented a much better sonic image on headphones as opposed to speakers.
As for the instrumental timbre, the string tone is characterized by some bright spots in the highs. But from the midrange on down, both instruments come across well with no boominess in the cello's lower registers. It's too bad this wasn't a hybrid disc, as they would probably have been more lifelike on the SACD stereo and multichannel tracks.
That said, the piano is well captured across its entire range, but taking everything into account, the CD falls a little short of an "Audiophile" rating. However, as we've noted before with wonderful music like this, pointy-eared listeners will soon forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P190829)
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Romero Asenjo: Sinfonia, Divertimeno, Vc Conc, Conc 2 Vns (all wks w stg orch); Soloists/Torre/Cammerata O [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Compared to André Mathieu (see above), composer-conductor-teacher Alfonso Romero Asenjo (b. 1957) was a late comer, who didn't start playing the piano until the ripe old age of six. Born in Bilbao, Spain, 200 miles north of Madrid, Alfonso first studied music and economics in his hometown as well as Seville, some 250 miles to the south-southwest of Spain's capitol.
Upon graduation, Alfonso began working as an economist, but soon returned to music. By 1985 he'd gotten a graduate degree in theory and composition, after which he spent two years in Madrid, studying conducting as well as piano. Then 1987 saw him move to the US, where he took further courses at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), which also involved film scoring.
Around this time he began teaching and became a visiting professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, around 150 miles west of Albany. Since then he's returned to Spain, where he's been on the faculty of several distinguished academic institutions, and his music has received increasing international attention.
To date, Asenjo's output has been small, but of very high quality. Now, Naxos gives us a groundbreaking sample of it on this CD that's filled out with four selections featuring string orchestras. Two of them are concertante works, and all are world premiere recordings.
First up, his three-movement Sinfonia para cuerda (Symphony for Strings), which is the most recent composition here (2014). A tonal, dissonance-spiced piece of late romantic persuasion, the opening "Allegro" ("Lively") [T-1] is an acerbic offering that may bring to mind biting moments in Prokofiev's (1891-1953) Symphonies (1916-52). On the other hand, the succeeding "Lento" ("Slowly") [T-2] is a mysterious creation having cinematic overtones that bring to mind portentous passages in Bernard Herrmann's (1911-1975) score for Alfred Hitchcock's (1899-1980) film classic Psycho (1960).
The work ends with another "Allegro" ("Lively") [T-3] that gets off to a frenzied start with scampering thoughts, which hint at a pixilated idea (SP) soon to come. These are followed by a brief pause, and a pizzicato laced, full version of SP [01:53], which undergoes an ostinato-like exploration. Then there's another short break, and harried passages bridge into an SP-based, forceful episode that ends the Sinfonia... with what seems like a death sigh.
Next, a Divertimento dating from 1995, which was commissioned for the student orchestra associated with the Conservatorio Rafael Orozco in Córdoba, Spain. Designed for young, aspiring string players, each of its three, terse movements has a simplicity and directness that make this music ideal for fledgling performers.
Here an initial, march-like "Moderato" ("Moderately") [T-4], based on a proud, tuneful number (PT), is succeeded by a PT-related "Lento" ("Slowly") [T-5], which is a moving lament. Then a spunky "Allegro" ("Lively"), fugato with a PT-derived main subject [T-6] ends the piece in high spirits.
But skies darken with the succeeding Concierto para violonchelo y orquestr de cuerda (Concerto for Cello and String Orchestra, 1995). While there's a later version for full orchestra (1996; currently unavailable on disc), what we have here is the original all string thing. In a single movement, lasting just over twenty minutes [T-7], it's set of five adjoining, grief-stricken contemplations.
The first is a sad utterance that begins slowly with wistful tutti and lachrymose cello passages. This is followed by three respectively agitated [04:25], yearning [07:49], and scherzo-like treatments [12:20], which give way to a melancholy fifth [15:08]. The latter has a morose cello cadenza [17:58] followed by the return of the tutti [19:44], who commiserate with the soloist, thereby ending the work in total despair.
Russian composer Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) paid homage to J.S. Bach's Concerto for 2 Violins (BWV 1043, 1717-23), when he wrote his Concerto Grosso No. 3 back in 1985. And Romero Asenjo followed suit with our concluding selection, the Concierto para dos violines (Concerto for Two Violins) of 1989.
In three-movements like its Baroque ancestor, this opens with an "Allegro" ("Lively") [T-8], having a slow, reverential preface that hints at an angular, vivacious idea (AV), which soon appears [00:30]. AV then triggers a busy, consummate fugato that's virtuosically embroidered by the soloists and gives way to a keening "Lento" ("Slowly"). The latter is based on an AV-derived, weeping subject [T-9], and many may find this the most effecting music here.
Be that as it may, the work concludes with another "Allegro" ("Lively") [T-10], having a fugato powered by a sequential series of frenzied AVs. Here the violins chase each other about and give way to a brief nostalgic, imitative episode for the orchestra [02:39-03:19]. Then they return to end the movement like it started, bringing the work and this CD to a fulfilling conclusion.
One of today's foremost chamber groups, Spain's Cammerata Orchestra, is featured on this CD. Conducted by their lead violinist and fellow countryman Joaquín Torre, they're joined by cellist Iagoba Fanlo for the initial Concerto. Then Maestro Torre plays second fiddle to Russian violinist Sergey Teslya's first in the other one. These musicians deliver committed, generally well-played accounts of all four selections, despite some sporadic, intonationally queasy moments.
The recordings were made in late 2016 at the Victor Villegas Auditorium, Murcia, Spain, and would seem to be authoritative as this disc was produced by the composer. They project a comfortable sonic image in pleasant surroundings with the two violins and cello respectively just left and right of center stage. In that regard, thanks to the composer's immaculate scoring as well as some skillful engineering, the soloists are amazingly well highlighted and balanced against all those other strings.
The overall tone is generally acceptable, but there are some digitally grainy spots in the highs. On the other hand, the midrange and bass are concert-hall quality with no boominess in the lower registers. Considering the less than ideal string sound typically found on conventional CDs, this release squeaks by with an audiophile rating.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190828)
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Weigl, K.I.: Sym 1, Bilder und Gesichten; Bruns/RheinPfSt P [Capriccio]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Back in the late-1930s, Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) wrote a testimonial, where he referred to Karl Ignaz Weigl (1881-1949) as among the best of Austria's older generation of composers. This is fair commentary on someone who, along with his pedagogue Robert Fuchs (1847-1927; see 31 March 2018), has become a favorite in these pages (see 31 May 2019).
Karl also had a distinguished teaching career, during which he could count Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957; see 31 March 2019) among his students. And by way of reminder, both of them like Schoenberg were forced to flee their homeland for the United States with the Third Reich's (1933-45) ever increasing implementation of anti-Semitic policies.
Now in this series devoted to Weigl's music, Capriccio gives us a couple of early orchestral selections from his considerable output, which is across all genres. These are the only recordings of them currently available on disc, and the program opens with his First Symphony of 1908. Incidentally, he would write six, the last two of which appeared on disc sometime ago (see BIS-1077 & 1167).
A four-movement work, the opening one marked "Leicht bewegt" ("light and animated") [T-1] smacks of Mahler (1860-1911), who was a close associate of Weigl's, and Richard Strauss (1864-1949). Somewhat of a through-composed, tone-poem-like creation, this music conjures up images, and is consequently more aptly described figuratively than with a rigorous, thematic analysis.
That said, it gets off to a hushed, sublime start with a delicate pastoral theme (DP) [00:01], which might well represent a sunrise over one of those verdant valleys nestled in the Austrian Alps. Pursuing this image, the scene then becomes alive with suggestions of morning birds [01:33] and what might be a nearby rustic village, where the town folk are just beginning their daily routines [02:27].
Subsequently, the opening mood resumes [02:53] and slowly escalates with more avian calls into a dramatic, afternoon, mountain squall [05:53]. But the skies clear, followed by passages limning what could be a gorgeous sunset [06:43].
Then it's back to the village, where the locals are engaged in some nighttime festivities [08:26], which include a jolly dance sequence [09:11]. This waxes into a dramatic outburst [09:48] and wanes, calling up reminders of DP [11:04] that engender a lovely nocturnal episode [11:36]. It brings the movement full circle, ending things tranquilly.
A bustling, audacious, "Sehr lebhaft" ("Very lively") scherzo is next [T-2] with DP-derived, fugally-spiced, scurrying, outer sections [00:00 & 07:46]. These bring to mind the music of Karl's colleague Max Reger (1873-1916, see 31 August 2016) and have waltzlike moments [01:04, 04:30, 08:49 & 12:15], where the composer's Viennese background shows through. They bracket a heroic trio [05:39-07:45] and close the movement excitedly [13:21] with victorious, martial overtones. It would seem the composer had some valiant knight in mind when he wrote this.
Going on that assumption, valor turns to epitaphic remembrance in "Langsam" ("Slow") [T-3], which is a moving, Mahlerian meander based on a DP-like idea [00:01]. By the way, those birdies from the first movement return periodically [beginning at 02:46], maybe to perch on our presumed hero's gravestone. Be that as it may, the music here is one of the most sublime creations by this composer to have yet appeared on disc.
The final "Lebhaft" (Lively") [T-4] ostensibly takes us back to that Alpine village for what could be a celebration of some big Austrian holiday. And our avian friends from above get things underway with a DP-related, flighty tune (DF) [00:00]. It's soon followed by a march-like number (DM), which starts somewhat like the melody for that old favorite, children's song, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" [01:05].
Then DM ebbs into an infectious, DF-DM-engendered, fugal episode [03:42], where the spirit of Reger is once again alive and well. The foregoing fathers big-tune reminders of DM [04:19 & 04:31], where presumably those town folk begin commemorating this postulated event. Subsequently, the music becomes increasingly festive with unifying hints of past ideas, and calls up a stretto-triggered, glorious coda [07:25], which brings the work to a manic, exultant conclusion.
A year after the Symphony, Weigl wrote six, solo piano pieces collectively named Bilder und Geschichten (Pictures and Tales, Op. 2; 1909). These are fairytale-associated, programmatically titled tidbits that the composer would later arrange as an eponymous Suite for small orchestra (1922). It closes this release with a musical equivalent of today's Fantasyland, and begins with a "Langsam" ("Slow") number appropriately called "Es war einmal" ("Once upon a time") [T-5]. This oneiric, fey piece sets the stage for the five soon to follow.
First there's "Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge" ("Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs") [T-6], which opens with a "Leicht bewegt" ("Light and animated") motif (LA) [00:00] that seemingly represents the playful, little people. This is followed by an argent "Etwas betant" ("Somewhat anxious") thought [00:32], presumably characterizing the beautiful, subject maiden. Then LA comes back [01:14], and the piece ends tranquilly.
Next, the composer turns his attention to the children's song, "Storch, Storch, Steiner" ("Stork, Stork, Stone") [T-7]. He gives us a "Lebhaft" ("Lively") reworking of German teacher-composer Carl Reinecke's (1824-1910) fetching melody for it. And after that, it's afternoon nap time with "Schlaf, Kindlein, schlaf" ("Sleep, Baby, Sleep") [T-8], which is a touching, "Langsam, zart" ("Slow and tender") cradle song. The Suite's longest selection, this is arguably its musical zenith.
Then continuing in a somniferous vein, we get "An Dornröschens Grab" ("On the Grave of the Sleeping Beauty") [T-9]. Here insistent, sighing phrases and birdlike twitters [00:26 & 01:17] anticipate the arrival of that Prince, whose kiss will waken that dozing damsel.
The closing "Elfentanz im Mondenschein" ("Elves Dance in the Moonlight") [T-10] is another "Lebhaft" ("Lively") offering. And maybe these elves have bumblebee wings as this mercurial piece brings to mind an all-time favorite, namely Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) music for that insect in his opera The Tale of the Tsar Sultan (1899-1900). It brings a charming work and pleasurable disc of discovery to an idyllic conclusion.
We've previously lauded German conductor Jürgen Bruns in these pages (see 30 June 2018), and once again he delivers magnificent performances of these two rarities, this time with the Rheinland-Pfalz State Philharmonic (RPSP; see 31 January 2019) based in Ludwigshafen, some 300 miles southwest of Berlin. They give a totally committed, highly dramatic reading of the Symphony, which is counterbalanced by a delightfully playful account of the Suite. Weigl couldn't be in better hands!
A Capriccio, RPSP and Deutschlandfunk Kultur coproduction, the recordings were made last fall at the orchestra's home hall located in Ludwigshafen, Germany, some 300 miles southwest of Berlin. They present a broad, well positioned sonic image in an enriching, warm, reverberant acoustic.
More specifically, the sound is characterized by sparkling highs and a convincing midrange. As for the bass, it's very clean and goes down to rock bottom, but there are no pants-flapping lows as these scores call for conventional forces. All in all, this is a demonstration quality disc.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y190827)
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