CLASSICAL LOST AND FOUND
FORGOTTEN MUSIC BY GREAT COMPOSERS AND GREAT MUSIC BY FORGOTTEN COMPOSERS
25 APRIL 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.
Bate, S.: Sym 3 (w Arnell & Chisholm); Yates/RScotNa O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Featuring all world première recordings, this release begins with the third of British composer Stanley Bate's (1911-1959, see the newsletter of 18 February 2009) four symphonies. Dated "New York 1940," and in three connected movements, the opening one is anxiety-ridden with a lovely extended theme reminiscent of his teacher Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). The andante that follows is characterized by an economy of means, and is quite pastoral sounding. The symphony concludes with an exciting supercharged presto, leaving the listener wondering why a piece this well-written has taken so long to appear on disc.
British composer Richard Arnell (1917-2009), who's no stranger to these pages (see the newsletter of 11 May 2009), is represented by two pieces written during his stay in the United States. They were composed in honor of American documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty (1884-1951) of Louisiana Story (1948) fame.
The first, Prelude "Black Mountain" (1946), is a moody impressionistic symphonic miniature honoring Flaherty's home, which was Black Mountain Farm in Brattleboro, Vermont. The second, Robert Flaherty -- Impression (1958), is a substantial twenty-minutes tone portrait. Highlights include an opening worthy of a 1940s’ Alfred Newman (1900-1970) film score, a couple of themes which owe a debt to Jean Sibelius (1865-1957), and a conclusion that brings Virgil Thomson (1896-1989, see the newsletter of 30 October 2007 ) to mind.
The disc is filled out with music by a Scottish composer new to these pages, Erik Chisholm (1904-1965). A student of Donald Tovey (1907-1918, see the Tovey recommendation below), besides his native Scotland he lived in Canada and the Far East. His pièce de résistance is the Pictures from Dante (1948) included here. Inspired by French engraver Gustav Doré's (1832-1844) illustrations for Dante Alighieri's (1265-1321) Divine Comedy (1308-1321), and dedicated to his friend Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (1892-1988), it's in two parts and calls for a huge orchestra.
The first, "Inferno," is striking for its complexity and dramatic intensity, which at times approaches cinematic proportions. The second, "Paradiso," is sublime with a plainsong undercurrent recalling Ottorino Respighi's (1879-1936) Roman Trilogy (1914-28). It points the way towards the music Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995) would soon write for those celluloid biblical epics. There are also frequent woodwind passages that hearken back to Smetana's (1824-1884) The Moldau (1874). Dutton once again strikes gold with this one.
Martin Yates conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in stirring renditions of everything. He maintains a firm grasp on the tightly structured symphony, but gives free rein to the more dramatic Arnell and Chisholm selections.
Recorded over a two-day period in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, the orchestral detail is immaculate across a generous soundstage. The instrumental timbre is for the most part good, except the violin sound could be smoother.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100425)
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D'Indy, V.: Orch Wks V3 (Sym 3, Choral..., Istar, Diptyque...); Flosason/Gamba/Ice SO [Chandos]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Many may find this third volume of Chandos' ongoing survey of French composer Vincent d'Indy's (1851-1931) orchestral works (see the newsletter of 13 July 2009) the most interesting yet as it includes his elusive third symphony. There are also two shorter little known pieces, Choral varié and Diptyque méditerranéen, that will come as welcome surprises to most listeners.
The program begins with Istar of 1896, which next to Symphony on A French Mountain Air (1886) must be the most popular piece Vincent ever wrote. Based on an ancient Babylonian legend, one could consider it a "Dance of the Seven Veils" that’s done here by the goddess Istar (Ishtar) to gain entrance into the underworld. Accordingly it's a theme and variations in reverse, where the unadorned main idea, representing Istar au naturel, doesn't appear until the very end. With a scenario like that, it’s not surprising to learn it was choreographed shortly after its première, and became an extremely successful ballet.
Choral varié that's next dates from 1903, and is a highly original rhapsody for saxophone and orchestra originally commissioned by American saxophonist Elisa Hall (1853-1924, see the newsletter of 28 March 2007). It commences with hints of a chorale-like tune in the orchestra that's soon picked up by the soloist. The two toss it back and forth in a series of variations that owe allegiance to the composer's revered mentor César Franck (1822-1890). Towards the end the chorale reappears in big tune fashion, and the piece concludes wistfully.
Incidentally, any “saxophobes” in the audience are advised there's another version of Choral... for viola (see the newsletter of 15 April 2009). As a vehicle for the most amorous of stringed instruments (see the newsletter of 18 February 2009), it takes on an entirely different character from what's here.
The four-movement third symphony written in 1916-18 was the composer's last, and commemorates France's involvement in World War I (1914-18). Accordingly it bears the title "Sinfonia brevis de Bello Gallico," or a "Short Symphony for the French War." With martial-sounding, percussively reinforced passages, there's a folksy angularity about the animated opening that's typical of the composer.
The syncopated dance-like scherzo recalls some of the more spastic numbers in Édouard Lalo's (1823-1892) Namouna (1882) ballet. It's followed by a slow-fast-slow movement with Franckian outer sections surrounding a perky inner one reminiscent of Ravel's (1875-1937) La Valse (1920). With an almost Daphnis and Chloé (1912) beginning, the jubilant finale would seem to celebrate France's victory over Germany.
In that regard there are quotes throughout the movement from the Gregorian Hymn to St. Michael [track-6, beginning at 01:46], who’s the French patron saint of Chivalry. Towards the end, the Michael melody appears triumphantly in the trumpet [track-6, beginning at 06:27] punctuated by stabbing chords from the full orchestra. And one can't help wondering if Arthur Honegger (1892-1955) had this in mind when he wrote his second symphony (1941). D'Indy concludes his war memorial with an ebullient coda that brings to mind Wagner's overture to Rienzi (1842). This isn’t all that surprising considering Vincent was a devoted Wagnerite.
The CD closes with the composer's last, and one of his loveliest, orchestral pieces, Diptyque méditerranéen of 1925-26. In two parts subtitled "Morning Sun" and "Evening Sun," it's the musical equivalent of a Cézanne (1839-1906) landscape seen at different times of the day. This is nature music (see the newsletter of 28 January 2009) similar to his Jour d'été à la montagne (Summer Day on the Mountain) of 1905 (see the newsletter of 13 July 2009). The orchestral coloring is sublime, and there's that simplicity and directness of expression frequently found in the last works of great composers.
Some classical pieces play themselves, but d'Indy's third symphony, like his second, requires special handling to achieve its full potential. Fortunately, that's just what it gets in the hands of British conductor Rumon Gamba and the Iceland Symphony Orchestra. They make an equally strong case for the other selections, leaving what little competition there is in the dust. Icelandic saxophonist Sigurður Flosason gets a big round of applause for his sensitive solo work in Choral varié.
Done in the same venue as the first two volumes, these recordings present a broad, well-focused soundstage where all the instrumental detail comes through in ravishing sonic Technicolor. The orchestral timbre is bright but natural-sounding over the entire frequency spectrum, which includes an impressive low end.
Had this been a hybrid disc, the strings would have undoubtedly been silkier in the Super Audio modes, but even so it's still demonstration quality. Made last fall in Iceland’s Háskólabíó Concert Hall, those with systems that go down to rock bottom may notice sporadic low frequency murmurs possibly due to outside traffic. On the other hand, maybe Eyjafjallajökull was coming to life way back then!
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100424)
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Kletzki: Pno Conc (orch Norine); 3 Pno Prels, Fant (pno), etc; Banowetz/T.Sanderling/Russ PO [Naxos]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Most remember Paul Kletzki (1900-1973), who was born in Poland under the name Pavel Klecki, as the distinguished international conductor who at one point lead the Dallas Symphony (1958-61), and eventually replaced Ernest Ansermet (1883-1969) as head of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande (1966-73). But he was also a composer of some consequence up until 1942, when apparently for war-related reasons he stopped writing music.
He began his musical studies in Poland, completing them in Berlin, where during the late 1920s and early 30s, he became a favorite of Wilhelm Furtwängler (1886-1954). But when the Nazis came to power in 1933, like so many other European musicians of Jewish heritage, he was forced to relocate (see the newsletters of 11 May 2009, 15 January 2010 and 12 April 2010), first moving to Italy and then Switzerland, where he died.
Making their première appearance on disc, all of the pieces here show Kletzki was a master craftsman, who shunned dodecaphony while pushing the envelope of tonality. They include a newly orchestrated version of his 1930 piano concerto, the only full score of which was apparently destroyed during World War II (1939-1945). We have conductor-arranger John Norine, Jr. to thank for this reconstruction, which he did in conjunction with the continuing Lost Composer's Project. It represents a significant addition to the late-romantic/early-modern concertante repertoire.
In three movements, the outer ones are in extended sonata form and surround a lovely central andante, where a pair of chromatically sinuous ideas alternate with one another. With elements of Brahms (1833-1897) and Rachmaninov (1873-1943) at its core, the concerto is one of those works which offers something new, but is at the same time immediately appealing.
Although elements of Chopin (1810-1849) are to be found in the three piano preludes of 1923, there's a tonal wanderlust that's a Kletzki trademark. The demands on the performer are considerable, making the music all the more compelling.
Dating from 1940-41, the three unpublished piano pieces that follow are intriguing because they maintain their tonal aroma despite heavy chromatic outgassing. Listening to these one can only marvel at the composer's consummate skill in juggling keys without sounding twelve-tone.
The CD concludes with the massive Fantasia in C minor for piano of 1924. Written just a year after the preludes, there's an intellectual aura and dramatic intensity that smack of Beethoven's (1770-1827) late piano sonatas, as well as those of Nicolai Medtner (1880-1951). In one extended super sonata form movement, perspicacious listeners will detect four connected sections. The outer ones correspond to the usual statement and recapitulation, while the inner two, consisting of a contiguous scherzo and lento, form the development. Is that an oblique reference to the Dies Irae (see the newsletter of 12 April 2010) we hear about halfway through this thought-provoking musical essay [track-10, beginning at 12:30]?
Our soloist on this CD, Joseph Banowetz, is a champion of rare piano repertoire, having given us a number of outstanding discs featuring neglected works by such composers as Mily Balakirev (1837-1910), Anton Rubinstein (1829-1894) and Sergei Taneyev (1856-1915). This release is no exception and ranks among his greatest accomplishments to date, considering the demands made on the performer. In the concerto, conductor Thomas Sanderling (see the newsletter of 31 July 2009), son of Kurt Sanderling (b. 1912), lives up to his legendary father's reputation, eliciting outstanding support for Mr. Banowetz from the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra.
The recording of the concerto is a Russian State TV & Radio studio production. And while the soundstage is convincing, the orchestral timbre is at times edgy with the piano somewhat recessed. The solo pieces, done at Skywalker Sound in California, are characterized by a well-rounded piano tone in a warm acoustic, but the instrument seems stretched across an inordinately wide soundstage.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100423)
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Mendelssohn, F.: Org Sons 1-6; Dimmock/Holzhey Org, Ravensburg, Germany [Loft]
AUDIOPHILE (1 CD)
Felix Mendelssohn's (1809-1847) six organ sonatas (1844-45) can be considered romantic successors to J.S. Bach's (1685-1750) works for that instrument. As performed here on one of Germany's finest classical organs, it's easy to understand why these late Mendelssohn pieces would go on to influence such other greats as Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Franz Liszt (1811-1886) and Johannes Brahms (1833-1897).
Felix left no specific registration indications, but only general guidelines as to how the sonatas should be done. Fortunately our soloist, Jonathan Dimmock, has a real feel for this music as well as the organ featured here, giving us articulate, beautifully balanced interpretations of everything.
The first sonata is noteworthy for its flowing finale, which Dimmock plays to perfection, capturing every detail of this exuberant offering. The second has an impressive stately allegro which introduces a final fugue old J.S. would have loved. The superbly registrated two-part third is memorable for its clever contrapuntal maestoso opening, which Felix follows with a tuneful closing andante.
There's never an idle moment in the thrilling fourth sonata, where our soloist gets a chance to show off his considerable technical abilities. The fifth, whose first movement is built on a chorale, acts as a brief rest bit before the sixth, which is a showcase for a number of colorful stops. The latter is for the most part an inventive theme and variations based on another chorale tune. It ends with a reverential fugue followed by a heavenly postlude.
As they did with their recent Buxtehude CDs (see the newsletter of 29 September 2009), producer Roger Sherman and recording engineer Erik Sikkema have come up with another exceptional ULSI organ release. That plus Jonathan Dimmock's well-judged registrations and immaculate playing on an instrument perfectly suited to these sonatas make this the current disc of choice for this music. By the way, those occasional clicks aren’t someone knocking on your front door, but the mechanical action associated with this venerated tracker action instrument.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, Y100422)
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Onslow: Guise ou les États de Blois Opera Stes (2, arr stg qt by cmpsr); SalRom Qt [Ligia]
RECOMMENDED (1 CD)
Composer George Onslow (1784-1853) was the son of a British nobleman and a French mother, whom his father met not long after he was forced to flee England for France in 1781. George spent his entire life in France and wrote a vast amount of chamber music for strings that includes thirty-six quartets in addition to thirty-four quintets.
He also composed three operas, the last of which has the rather odd title of Guise ou les États de Blois (1835, not currently available on disc) that translated into English is Guise, or the States of Blois. However, the lure of the chamber medium was so great for him that he later transcribed it as an overture and two suites for string quartet.
These reductions were thought to be lost, but not too long ago a copy of the suites, which had been handed down to one of the composer's descendants, came to light. While the overture has yet to be found, the suites are presented here for the first time on disc. Each is in five parts that pretty much follow the action of this three-act comic opera (see the album notes for plot details), and as string quartets they represent significant additions to Onslow's considerable body of more standard chamber works.
Highlights of the first suite include a lively opening march, which Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) would have loved [track-1], and a charming lyrical offering in the penultimate part [track-4] based on the duet that ends the opera's first act. The suite concludes [track-5] with a series of delightful ditties worthy of Schubert (1797-1828) extracted from the opening of the second act.
The second suite begins with a storm, which at the time must been a first for string quartet, followed by a catchy chanson [track-6]. The exciting incandescent third part [track-8] is derived from the ending of act two. But the best is yet to come in the concluding martial fourth [track-9] and highly dramatic fifth [track-6] parts drawn from the opera's final act.
Our performing group here, Le Salon Romantique, gives committed sensitive performances of these two suites. Formed in 2003 and devoted to the music of little known composers, we can only hope they'll soon introduce us to more esoterica.
Across a relatively broad soundstage, and in an acoustic perfectly suited to an ensemble of this size, the recordings are quite good. The string sound is very delicate, if a bit on the bright side, which seems to work with Onslow's delicate scoring.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100421)
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Tovey, D.: Bride of Dionysus (14 excs fm opera); Soloists/Vass/Belf PC/Ulster O [Dutton]
RECOMMENDED BEST FIND (1 CD)
We've told you about some of his chamber music (see the newsletter of 28 October 2008), and here's a new release with excerpts from British composer Sir Donald Francis Tovey's (1875-1940) opera The Bride of Dionysus (1907-18). With a libretto by English poet Robert Trevelyan (1872-1951), and in three acts lasting almost four hours, it's a real rarity that's never been published and was produced only twice in the dim distant past (1929 and 1932). Based on the Greek myth about Theseus (see the newsletter of 11 July 2007), Ariadne, Phaedra (Phèdre, see the newsletter of 12 April 2010), and the Minotaur, by the composer’s own admission it's modeled after Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) later operas.
The first of the fourteen selections included here is the lovely prelude to act one [track-1]. Romantic and moving, it sets the stage for the dramatic opening scene that follows [track-2]. This introduces the main protagonists and chorus, which as in classical Greek drama takes part in as well as commenting on the action. The music is a winning combination of Brahms (1833-1897) and Wagner with a little Bruckner (1824-1896) thrown in for good measure [track-2, beginning at 11:36].
The tidbits from act two that are next include a lovely duet for Theseus and Ariadne [track-3], plus a couple of exciting heroic orchestral interludes [tracks-4 and 5]. Tovey's unfailing sense of formal structure coupled with brilliant orchestration make for some masterful symphonic scene painting in the latter.
The third and final act is represented by an emotionally charged aria for Phaedra [track-6] worthy of Wagner, as well as a charming pastoral number with satyrs and fauns [track-7] which Pierné (1863-1937) would have loved. There's also a radiant aria for Ariadne [track-8]. Then the disc ends all too soon with the opera's stunning finale [track-9], where there are hints of Wagner's “Redemption through love" motif from The Ring… (1869-76). Bravo, Tovey! And let's just hope some progressive opera company will revive The Bride... in the not too distant future!
Soprano Sally Silver sings Ariadne with mezzo-soprano Yvonne Fontane as Phaedre. Tenor Robert Johnston wears two hats as Theseus and the satyr Chromis. Likewise, baritone Michael Bundy sings King Minos as well as Dionysis. All of them give committed enthusiastic performances which well make up for occasional vocal rough spots. The Belfast Philharmonic Choir is outstanding in a variety of choruses, and the Ulster Orchestra under George Vass seems to have a real affinity for this opulent music.
The recording is certainly acceptable from the soundstage and balance standpoints, but the voice quality and orchestral timbre would probably have been much better in the SACD stereo and multichannel modes had this been a hybrid release. Those nitpicks aside, we owe Dutton a vote of thanks for being adventurous enough to give us what's here.
-- Bob McQuiston, Classical Lost and Found (CLOFO.com, P100420)
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