CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
28 FEBRUARY 2010
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.
Dorman: Mand Conc, Conc Grosso, Picc Conc, Pno Conc; Soloists/Cyr/MetropEn [Naxos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Four neo-baroque concertos by an Israeli-born composer, who's now resident in the U.S., are the order of the day on this spirited release from Naxos. With a double major in music and physics, Avner Dorman (b. 1975) got his undergraduate and master's degrees at Tel Aviv University, and then went on to earn his doctorate in composition at Julliard, where he studied with John Corigliano (b. 1938). His informative album notes tells us he's loved baroque music ever since he was a kid, and this shows in the articulately piquant pieces presented here.
The mandolin concerto (2006) and concerto grosso (2003) are each in three loosely connected sections that follow a slow-fast-slow scheme. The former opens and closes pensively with occasional kinetically twitchy episodes recalling earlier mandolin showpieces by "The Red Priest." Middle Eastern influences (see the newsletter of 15 March 2008 and 7 January 2009) are present in the central allegro.
Dorman tells us his concerto grosso was influenced by Henryk Górecki (b. 1933) and Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) in that it’s a minimalized version of what was standard fare in baroque times. The main idea is the first theme from George Frideric Handel's (1685-1759) Op. 6, No. 4 (1739), and Avner’s solo group is a string quartet with harpsichord. There are sinister sounds reminiscent of Gestapo sirens in the opening adagio that recall the first and last movements of Corigliano's string symphony (No. 2, 2000). Some fancy fiddling ŕ la Vivaldi (1678-1741) is to be found in the following presto, and then the concerto ends with a another pensive adagio. The juxtaposition of minimalist understatement and Latin volatility give the piece a character all of its own. Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) would have found it a real curiosity!
The piccolo (2001) and piano (1995) concerti each have fast outer movements surrounding a slow inner one. Contrapuntal devices common in the Baroque and Classical periods are employed in the former, and there's even an amusing reference [track-4, beginning at 02:20] to the last movement of J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) second orchestral suite (1717-23). While this piece has a neo-classical patina worthy of Stravinsky (1882-1971), jazz, popular, and Middle Eastern connotations are also present. A busy piano continuo adds considerable bounce to the score, and may bring to mind the more hyperactive creations of Paul Schoenfield (b. 1947) and Michael Torke (b. 1961).
The program ends with the piano concerto, where a multitude of stylistic references flash on and off like fireflies on a summer night. The old expression, "raging hormones," might best describe the two outer movements in which baroque, romantic, jazz, pop and folk elements all coexist. The concluding presto even has a theme whose beginning sounds like "God Save the Tsar" [track-12, beginning at 03:02]. The composer tells us the central andante is a song without words, and it proves Avner is an inspired melodist when he wants to be.
All of the soloists deserve a big hand for their uniformly excellent performances. They include mandolinist Avi Avtal, piccoloist Mindy Kaufman, and pianist Eliran Avni. They're given sterling support by the New York City based Metropolis Ensemble (ME) under its founding conductor, Andrew Cyr. Special thanks should also go to ME violinists Lily Francis and Arnaud Sussmann, as well as violist Eric Nowlin, cellist Michal Korman, and harpsichordist Aya Hamada for their fine concertino work in the concerto grosso. Let's hope we'll be hearing more from this exceptional chamber orchestra in the very near future.
These recordings are models of clarity and produce an ideally proportioned soundstage commensurate with an ensemble of this size. All of the solo instruments are perfectly captured and balanced against the rest of the orchestra. Contemporary music lovers and audiophiles alike will be pleased with this release.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100228)
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Foote: Seren for Stgs, Ste (stgs); Herbert, V.: Seren for Stgs; Markou/LonOcta [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Last summer (see the newsletter of 31 July 2009) we told you about an outstanding release featuring orchestral music by American composer Arthur Foote (1853-1937). Two excerpts from his Serenade for Strings were included on that disc, but now here's the world premičre recording of the complete work. It's coupled with his Suite in E Major for strings and Victor Herbert's (1859-1924) Serenade for Strings, which also makes its CD debut.
Foote's serenade, which first appeared in 1891, is actually a collection of five pieces he wrote at different times during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Although he was educated in the United States (the New England Conservatory and Harvard University), European stylistic influences acquired during his many trips to the continent are evident above and beyond baroque and classical structural elements.
More specifically there are hints of Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and Dvorák (1841-1904) in the gently swaying prelude. While the following air is modeled after the one in J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) third orchestral suite (1717-23). The light-hearted intermezzo has all the charm of a Wolfie Mozart (1756-1791) serenade, and the romance is a melodic petit four that shows what an accomplished tunesmith Arthur was. The final gavotte is the most adventurous movement with a rhythmic rambunctiousness that seems quite American. It ends this treasurable stringed offering with a last nod to Dvorák, who would soon be coming to America as director of the New York City National Conservatory of Music.
The three-movement Suite in E Major for strings of 1907 is one of the Foote's best known pieces, and the U.S. counterpart of string serenades by the likes of Dvorák, Elgar (1857-1934) and Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). More romantic in spirit than the previous selection, the attractive prelude might well have been inspired by a warm summer day, maybe somewhere along the New England coast. The pizzicato accented beginning and ending of the following capriccioso allegretto share affinities with the scherzo from Tchaikovsky's Fate Symphony (No. 4, 1877), while the beautiful central section recalls Grieg's (1843-1907) sepia-tinted string miniatures. The final fugue might best be described as romantic wine in a baroque bottle, and attests to Foote's considerable melodic and contrapuntal skills.
Born in Dublin, Victor Herbert grew up and received his musical education in London as well as Stuttgart, where he became a cello virtuoso. In 1886 he moved to New York City, and it wasn't long before he was the principal cellist with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. In addition to performing he also conducted, and was a highly prolific composer mostly remembered for his operettas. But he wrote a significant amount of memorable orchestral music, including the charming Serenade for Strings of 1884 featured here.
A product of his years in Germany and in five movements, it opens with a quickstep that portends the "March of the Toys" from his Babes in Toyland (1903, complete version currently unavailable on disc), and a Tzigane-inflected polonaise which anticipates The Fortune Teller (1896). It's followed by a moving love scene that's one of Herbert's finest melodic inventions, and a playful canzonetta, setting the stage for the flighty finale. The latter serves up another memorable Herbert melody [track-5, beginning at 01:22], and ends the piece excitedly with a big "smiley."
Our performing group here is London Octave, most of whose members are from the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields or English Chamber Orchestra. This is one of those rare cases where less is more because with just a handful of players they produce a rich string tone, rivaling any of today’s chamber ensembles. Up-and-coming conductor Kypros Markou elicits inspired playing from them, making a strong case for these undeservedly neglected scores.
Generally speaking, lush strings across a broad soundstage in a reverberant acoustic characterize these recordings. Granted there are a couple of spots where pointy-eared audiophiles may detect some digital graininess, but never to a degree where the music becomes oppressive. That said, most listeners will find themselves pleasantly awash in the rich sea of string sonorities captured here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100227)
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Goldmark, K.: Merlin (cpte opera, orig 1886 vers); Soloists/Schaller/MunPC/PFest O [Profil]
RECOMMENDED (3 CDs)
Talk about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, this composer is a case in point! Born near Lake Balaton, Hungary, and with nineteen siblings, Karl Goldmark (1830-1915) came from an understandably poverty-stricken family. Although he showed exceptional musical talent at a very early age, it wasn’t until 1844 that his father, who was a local Jewish cantor and notary, could afford to send him to study in Vienna. Unfortunately it wasn't long before political unrest in Austria forced him to leave the city, and for the next seven years he supported himself by playing the violin in a number of provincial opera houses.
It was during this period that Goldmark, being highly self-disciplined, filled every spare moment of his time with extensive self-study. This would become a regimen he'd pursue for the rest of his life with subjects ranging from music theory and scores of the masters to science, philosophy, and languages.
He returned to Vienna in 1851, and by the early 1860’s had become one of the city’s most highly regarded composers. By the late 1870s he’d gained a worldwide reputation with his ever popular Rustic Wedding Symphony (No. 1, 1875), and the first of his six operas, The Queen of Sheba (1875).
Hearing this world premičre recording of his second opera, Merlin (1886), it's easy to understand why it was received so enthusiastically by Viennese audiences, and soon became an international success. Why it's taken so long to surface on disc is puzzling, but as we've said before, better late than never!
In three acts with a libretto by Siegfried Lipiner (1856-1911), it's a music drama centered around the wizard Merlin and his star-crossed love affair with the beautiful Viviane, against the backdrop of King Arthur's war with the Saxons. See the libretto (German only) and plot synopsis (German and English) included for more details.
The opening prelude, which begins threateningly, introduces the major motifs that will run through the work. While the influence of Richard Wagner (1813-1883) is quite apparent from the outset, French and Italian operatic touches are also present in keeping with Goldmark's encyclopedic knowledge of music. There's also an attention to structural as well as orchestral detail, along with the frequent use of unusual chords and modulations that set this opera apart.
The first act is notable for some charming will-o'-the-wisps music [CD-1, track-3] that smacks of Berlioz, a stirring triumphal procession involving the king along with his retinue [CD-1, track-5], and an attractively perky aria by Viviane [CD-1, track-7]. The jubilant ending with Arthur surrounded by his knights and subjects [Cd-1, track-10], is somewhat reminiscent of Die Meistersinger (1868).
The next act features a stirring ensemble scene for Merlin with Arthur and his knights [CD-2, track-4], as well as an amorous aria by Merlin [CD-2, track-5]. There's also a delightful "Dance of the Spirits" [CD-2, track-7], leading up to a moving love duet for Merlin and Viviane [CD-2, tracks-9 and 11]. Its sinister conclusion anticipates the tragic final act, and brings Der Fliegende Holländer (1843) as well as Der Ring des Nibelungen (1869-76) to mind.
Triumph and tragedy fill the last act, which begins with a brief ominous prelude [CD-3, track-2]. Gloom prevails in Viviane's aria that follows [CD-3, track-2], despite efforts to cheer her up in the form of a soaring song by Morgana the Fairy [CD-3, track-3], and an airy maidens' chorus that's a unique Goldmark creation [CD-3, track-4]. Could those be shards of some Magyar folk song (see the newsletter of 15 July 2008) we hear in the latter?
A brief reunion between Viviane and Merlin just before he goes off to help Arthur in his battle against the Saxons raises her spirits, and she sings a couple of superb back-to-back arias [CD-3, tracks-6 and 7]. Soon thereafter Merlin, now mortally wounded, is brought back on a stretcher to the strains of a moving funeral march [CD-3, track-8]. As he expires, Viviane, not wanting to live without him, stabs herself thereby preserving their love in death. The opera then ends with a supernal chorus, and not a dry eye in the house!
As far as the singing is concerned, tenor Robert Künzli and soprano Anna Gabler are in fine voice as Merlin and Viviane. They do more than just hit the right notes by delivering highly dramatic performances. Soprano Gabriela Popescu (Morgana the Fairy), tenor Daniel Behle (Modred), baritone Brian Davis (Lancelot), and basses Frank von Hove (The Demon) and Sebastian Holecek (Arthur) may not be quite in the same league, but sing their roles with a degree of enthusiasm that makes up for any technical shortcomings. The Munich Philharmonic Choir directed by Andreas Herrmann provides ideal choral support as town folk, Arthur's army, the spirits of the moors, and Viviane's maiden companions.
The orchestra here is billed as the Philharmonie Festiva, and under conductor Gerd Schaller it delivers an exceptionally taut, exciting rendition of this rarely heard opera. That's not so surprising when you consider it apparently began life as the illustrious Munich Bach Soloists under the legendary Karl Richter (1926-1981), and was later expanded with the addition of musicians drawn from all of that city's leading orchestras.
There's no indication in the album notes that this production was taken from live performances, which seems borne out by the absence of any extraneous sounds. On the other hand there is a closeness about the recording typically found where special miking and editing procedures have been used to minimize background noise. The soloists, chorus and orchestra are all pretty well captured, although there is a hint of high-end glare in some ff passages. But with music this esoteric we're lucky to have what's here.
If this dramatic legend is to your tastes, and you don't already know them, try investigating Isaac Albéniz's (1860-1909) Merlin (1898), or the Arthurian-inspired stage works of Ernest Chausson (1855-1899), Henry Purcell (1659-1695), Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900), and Elinor Remick Warren (1900-1991).
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100226)
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Klami: Northern Lights, Cheremissian Fant, Kalevala Ste; Peltonen/Storgards/Hels PO [Ondine]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Although not nearly as well known as his compatriot Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), Uuno Klami (1900-1961) was one of Finland's most outstanding late romantic composers. He received his early musical training from Erkki Melartin (1875-1937) at the Helsinki Music Institute. But he and his family travelled widely around the Baltic, and eventually he undertook further studies in France and Austria. He got to know Florent Schmitt (1870-1958, see the newsletter of 25 July 2007), and probably Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) in Paris, and studied with Hans Gál (1890-1987) in Vienna. A true cosmopolitan, it's therefore not surprising to find Klami's music has all the color and panache of such greats as Berlioz (1803-1869), Ravel (1875-1937), Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) and Stravinsky (1882-1971).
This release opens with his fantasy for orchestra, Northern Lights, which was completed in 1946, and is the latest of the three selections here. At one point the composer indicated he considered this his finest work, and that it wasn't just meant to be a musical aurora borealis. He went on to explain it was also an expression of the infinite loneliness the human spirit can experience, as represented by those solitary sheets of light shimmering in the vast expanse of the cold Arctic night.
The piece begins darkly, but becomes increasingly iridescent in passages that have an affinity with Ravel and early Stravinsky. As the work draws to a close there are chromatic flashes of despair made all the more poignant by thwacks on the bass drum and gong. These fade and the music ends leaving the listener with a feeling of total isolation.
The Cheremissian Fantasy for cello and orchestra dating from 1931 is next. In two movements, one could consider it a mini-concerto based on folk music of the Finnic people in Cheremis (known today as the Mari El Republic) located on the East European Plain of the Russian Federation. The initial lento is flowingly rhapsodic with lots of folk color recalling Aram Khachaturian's (1903-1978) concertante works for violin as well as cello. The following presto begins in highly animated, virtuosic fashion, but soon turns lyrically introspective, again bringing Khachaturian to mind. The pace then picks up, and the fantasy ends with some cello fireworks and a final exclamatory chord for full orchestra.
Begun in 1933 at Finnish conductor-composer Robert Kajanus’ (1856-1933) suggestion that he write something based on the Finnish national epic, Klami's five-movement Kalevala Suite has become one of his most popular pieces. It underwent a number of significant changes, and it wasn't until 1943 that the finalized version presented here was completed. Whereas Sibelius deals for the most part with characters in his Kalevala-related Kullervo (1892), Lemminkäinen Suite (1893-95), and Pohjola's Daughter (1906), Klami's music describes inanimate aspects of the legend.
The first section, "The Creation of the Earth," is a case in point, where whirling orchestral nebulosities gradually coalesce ŕ Le sacre du printemps (1913) into a fiery primeval planet. Geologic chaos rapidly subsides revealing a blue-green earth, and introducing the next part "The Sprout of Spring." This is a soothing pastoral offering that some may find reminds them of the finale from Stravinsky's L'oiseau de feu (1911).
The next section, "Terhenniemi," is Pétrouchka-like (1911) nature music (see the newsletter of 27 November 2009) with twittering birdies hopping around in verdant summer fields. "Cradle Song for Lemminkäinen" features a soporific auburn English horn solo that's strangely reminiscent of "Ol' Man River" from Jerome Kern's (1885-1945) Showboat (1927). The finale, "The Forging of the Sampo," begins somewhat like Sibelius' first symphony (1899), but rapidly escalates into an animated episode complete with whacks on tuned anvils. It calls to mind Siegfried (1876) pounding on Nothung, and ends the suite in a shower of sparks with heroic brass chords.
As far as modern day Finnish symphonic music is concerned, the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra and their chief conductor John Storgards (see the newsletter of 29 September 2009) are among its finest proponents. They instill these selections with a luster and finesse that raises the bar for recorded performances of Klami's opulent scores, and Samuli Peltonen handles the demanding solo cello part in Cheremissian Fantasy with great aplomb. Their dynamite rendition of the Kalevala Suite is now arguably the best on disc.
The recordings are exceptionally clear across the extended frequency spectrum and dynamic range engendered by Klami's vibrant scoring. The soundstage is revealingly wrapped in the hospitable acoustic of Finlandia Hall, Helsinki. Initially some may find the orchestral timbre a bit bright, but the ear quickly acclimates to it.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100225)
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Scott, C.: Pno Trios 1 & 2, Cl Trio, Cl Qnt, Cornish... (pno trio); Soloists/Gould Pno Trio [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
The Gould Piano Trio is on stage again (see the newsletter of 8 February 2010) for this new Chandos release of music by British composer Cyril Scott (1879-1970). In the past we've told you about several of his orchestral works (see the newsletters of 23 June 2006), but it's some of his equally accomplished chamber music, including four world premičre (WP) recordings, that's featured here.
From the tender age of twelve (1891) up until the beginning of World War I (1914-18), Scott spent a considerable amount of time on the continent, particularly in the German-speaking countries, as a student, concert pianist and composer. It's therefore not surprising that his piano quartet of 1900 (see the newsletter of 18 October 2006) shows Germanic influences. But by the early 1900s he had come under the spell of Debussy (1862-1918) and Ravel (1875-1937), so it's French Impressionism that pervades the selections on this disc, which date from 1920 or later.
Only the last three of his four piano trios are numbered, the earliest being a student piece written around 1899 in Frankfurt (no recording currently available). Our program begins with No. 1 (WP), which was completed in 1920. It's in the usual four movements and opens mystically with velveteen piano arpeggios over muted strings. Momentum builds as the keyboard part becomes more dynamic, and the strings shed their mutes. Cyril then proceeds to create a movement of surpassing impressionism that even Debussy would have envied.
Although it begins leisurely, the next movement quickly accelerates, becoming a most inventive scherzo that alternates between slow and fast. Tremolando as well as sul ponticello effects on the strings, and faux Eastern riffs for the piano give the music an exoticism which is most appealing. It spills over into the following andante where ever changing time signatures and runaway chromaticism create an extraterrestrial musicscape.
The final rondo is the most conventional sounding part of the trio with an exceedingly lyrical recurring theme. Still there are rhythmic tics and a pentatonism that give it an impressionistic sapidity right out of Ravel. A dramatic restatement of the main idea in the concluding coda ends the trio on a definitive note.
The three-movement trio for clarinet, cello and piano (WP) dates from 1955. The opening finds the cello and clarinet carrying on a musical debate with the piano acting as moderator. The discussion heats up and the movement ends acrimoniously. A languid intermezzo follows, providing a brief respite before the capricious rondo that concludes the work with impressionistic indifference, and a shrug of the shoulders.
The quintet for clarinet and string quartet (1951, revised 1953) is in a single movement with time signatures that remain in a state of constant flux. It's a moody, impressionistic stream of consciousness that opens somewhat like Debussy's quartet (1893). The clarinet then periodically peeks through a tangle of string sonorities like those animals in a Rousseau (1844-1910) jungle painting.
Next up, the one movement Piano Trio No. 2 (WP), which was probably written between 1940 and 1950. The influence of Ravel and Debussy is again evident in this highly chromatic work. The stately radiant beginning includes a motif (track-9, beginning at 03:15) strangely reminiscent of the Russian folk melody (RF) Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) uses in the last movement of his Fate Symphony (No. 4, 1877). It’s the seed from which the trio flowers. The work is a rhapsodic free association, somewhat reminiscent of those "rambles" by Cyril's good friend Percy Grainger (1882-1961). For the most part reserved, there are ecstatic outbursts, including an elated final coda based on RF.
Around 1931 Scott wrote two miniatures for piano trio based on what he said were folk songs. But he never gave any details as to their origins, and they may well be of his own invention. One of these, Cornish Boat Song, fills out this disc (WP), and many may find its gentle rocking motion more characteristic of a cradle than a boat. The other, Little Folk-Dance, couldn't be included because of CD time limitations, but can be heard and/or downloaded at no charge by clicking here. There's a childlike innocence about it that again recalls Percy's music, but this time his more puerile creations.
With this CD the Gould Piano Trio continue their discriminating survey of English chamber music (see the newsletters of 30 August 2007 and 31 July 2009). As before their performances are exceptional, even though the music here represents a significant stylistic departure from what they've done previously. As on the Kurt Roger disc we told you about last month (see the newsletter of 8 February 2010), clarinetist Robert Plane and violinist Mia Cooper provide invaluable support with their sensitive playing in the clarinet trio and quintet.
The sound is superb with a perfectly proportioned soundstage suspended in an ideal chamber music venue. The instrumental timbre is totally natural with silky strings complemented by a well rounded piano tone, and dulcet clarinet sound that's to die for. Audiophiles will want to take this one along on their next listening safari.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100224)
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Weinberg, M. (Vainberg): Sym 1, Vc Conc; Khrychov/Titov/StPeteStAcad SO [N Flowers]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
In his never ending quest for rare fare, Records International's buyer Jeff Joneikis has come up with another winning disc here featuring Mieczyslaw Weinberg's (1919-1996) first symphony and cello concerto. As you may recall, he was the composer we told you about (see the newsletter of 13 August 2008) who fled to what was then the Soviet Union when the Nazis overran his native Poland in 1939. And it was this symphony that impressed Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) so much that he got the young composer invited to Moscow, where he would spend the rest of his life.
Incidentally, there's some confusion over the English spelling of his name, which transliterated from Russian into the Latin alphabet becomes Moisey Vainberg, or even Vaynberg. Consequently, it's advisable to try all of these variants when searching for his music online.
Dating from 1942, the first of his twenty-one completed symphonies -- there are an additional four for chamber orchestra -- is in the standard four movements. The initial one is an allegro in free sonata form, and almost twice as long as the three eight-minute ones that follow. It opens with a fetching nostalgic theme (FN) which anticipates Prokofiev's (1891-1953) fifth (1944) and seventh (1951-52) symphonies. This is immediately subjected to a series of developmental transformations, after which another dark lyrical motif is introduced. The two ideas are then dexterously manipulated in a more extended development section, which becomes increasingly obstreperous in the manner of Shostakovich. Calm finally prevails in the form of a relaxed recapitulation that ends the movement in a state of melancholy similar to the mood in which it began.
As the album notes point out, the lento is a lied for orchestra that takes its cue from the slow movements of Gustav Mahler's (1860-1911) symphonies. However, there's a sprinkling of highlighted instrumental groupings that's a Weinberg trademark. The following vivace is a scherzo with stylistic similarities to the allegretto in Shostakovich's fifth symphony (1937) and rhythmic eccentricities which are strictly Weinberg.
The finale is apparently based on an ancient Polish chorale, which is intoned at the very outset, and seems a distant cousin of FN. The composer demonstrates his considerable contrapuntal prowess by developing it into a massive symphonic edifice, which may have been meant to reassure audiences that victory over the Nazi War Machine was on the way. There are haunting similarities to Roy Harris' (1898-1879) monolithic third symphony of 1937, which make one wonder if Mieczyslaw knew it.
Weinberg's father who was a violinist with various itinerant Jewish theater groups in Poland, and Mieczyslaw often accompanied him on the piano. So it's not surprising to find that Jewish folk music is a key ingredient in his four-movement cello concerto of 1945-48. Many will be reminded of Ernest Bloch's (1880-1959) similarly influenced pieces for that instrument, such as Schelomo (1915-16), From Jewish Life (1925) and Voice in the Wilderness (1936).
The opening adagio features a Semitic-sounding heartfelt song (SH) for the cello. It's joined seamlessly to a colorfully scored dancelike moderato with klezmer connections. A chugging virtuosic scherzo with an attractively melodic central trio section is next. It contains an extended cadenza for the soloist, which also serves as an introduction to the brilliant finale.
This begins rather unassumingly with folkish riffs that soon develop into a rhythmically bumptious hora. Moments of moving introspection follow, and the concerto ends with a lament based on SH that may well be for victims of the Holocaust, which included the composer's family. A tiny ray of hope for the future of humanity is hinted at in the final C major chord.
Hearing this concerto, one can't help thinking about the many pieces by Shostakovich that borrow Jewish themes. These include From Jewish Folk Poetry (1948, orchestrated 1964), the fourth (1949) and tenth (1964, and dedicated to Weinberg) string quartets, and Babi Yar Symphony (No. 13, 1962), to name a few.
Like their Popov CD, which we told you about last month (see the newsletter of 8 February 2010), the St. Petersburg State Academic Symphony Orchestra under conductor Alexander Titov with cellist Dmitry Khrychov in the concerto give us impassioned performances. Occasionally the violins seem to be experiencing some intonational difficulties in the symphony, but they're not so frequent that they detract from the overall enjoyment of the music. Moreover, these orchestral rarities are a significant contribution to the Weinberg revival currently underway.
While the sound is far superior to those old steely sounding Soviet Melodiya recordings, one couldn't classify it as audiophile demonstration quality. The soundstage is wide but distant, and the orchestral timbre, a tad edgy. Also the solo cello might have benefitted from a bit more highlighting. Those nitpicks aside, the music will soon make you forget any sonic shortcomings.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100223)
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